Laptops and High-quality Education for Every Child
The key to developing an economically and socially healthy society lies in providing high-quality education for everyone. High-quality education is not only a basic human right, but also a necessity in order to overcome the severe global problems we face.
To create a just world, access to high-quality education cannot be a privilege for an elite few. Rather, every child, rich or poor, everywhere, deserves the opportunity for an education that maximizes his or her greatest potential.
Our concept of high-quality education must evolve as the world evolves. A child who enters school in 2009 would be on course to graduate after 2020.
What will the world look like? What will someone need to know? What will a society need in order to be viable, sustainable and peaceful? What do we need to do now so that the young adults of 2020 will have the requisite skills to enable the Rwanda 2020 plan?
While we cannot know what the world will look like, we can be certain the world will be different. Ongoing change is one definite constant.
The role of technology; the need to creatively solve new, unforeseen challenges; and the necessity of innovation are also definite.
The task to prepare children for a changing, unpredictable world where competitive advantage goes to those who create differs radically from the past educational reality.
The best preparation for thriving in the 21st century is to develop a love of learning and the skills to learn well. If one can only recite from memory, then one will be at a huge disadvantage in a future that differs from the past.
Being fluent with technology and learning to channel creativity through technology is what will enable children, and their countries, to prosper.
To do so requires an education for all that is based on the real principles of universal public education; that of enabling the fullest possible human and social development.
The task also requires a basis in the best principles about learning: that children learn best when they are actively engaged exploring, creating and constructing in areas of study where they have interest.
Otherwise, as is currently the case around the world, achieving high-quality for all has been elusive. Children learn by doing and thinking about what they do.
Thus the foundation of educational reform must be for children to have better things to do and better ways to think about doing these things.
This will not happen by merely having children sit to passively watch pretty animations on computer screens or only through drill and practice. The computer is humanity’s greatest tool for active learning. Computers have enabled the tremendous growth of knowledge in the world.
Since the mission of children is learning, it is our obligation to provide them equitable access to the most powerful learning tool invented: connected laptops.
With connected laptops, children in even the most remote rural areas for the first time have the opportunity not only to access the world’s sources, but also to engage with other learners and passionate experts everywhere on their projects of interest.
They will no longer be limited by the experience and expertise of those in close proximity, but can expand their knowledge beyond borders.
The limit to most rural children’s knowledge of mathematics, for example, would have been the mathematics knowledge of their teachers.
Yet, most of those teachers also would have endured the same limits as the children, resulting in a vicious cycle, and a deficiency in mathematical thinking. While societies need more people with greater expertise in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the existing vicious circle inhibits such development.
Such active engagement of learning by doing overcomes what all too often is a passive, non-engaging educational experience.
Children naturally have a love of learning, but all too often this dissipates over time. Many children’s school experiences are felt as boring, irrelevant, and not useful. School should be the exact opposite: a satisfying place of accomplishment, wonder, joy, and development.
Even though the one laptop per child initiative is in its earliest stages, we have already seen many incredible results in learning, as well as tremendous enthusiasm by children and their parents.
This has resulted in rising enrollment, higher attendance, fuller social inclusion, and most importantly, an expanding positive sense of self and potential. It is our obligation to fulfill the rights of every child to a high-quality education.
Part 2 of this essay will discuss how to accomplish this on a national scale.
David Cavallo is the OLPC Vice President of Learning and Head of the new Laptops and Learning Center in Kigali.