Illiterate kids given sealed boxes with tablets figure out how to use, master, and hack them


43 Responses to “Illiterate kids given sealed boxes with tablets figure out how to use, master, and hack them”

  1. Larry says:

    I knew this from watching Gilligan’s island. With nothing to do, you can make a car with coconuts.
    Leave these kids for a year and they will hack into military satellites.

  2. JoeKickass says:

    It is a DAMN GOOD thing they weren’t Apple products or all those kids would be going to jail for violating the EULA.

    The EULA they didn’t read of course, just like everyone else /edit

    • elix says:

      That there might be (I’m no expert) nobody in their family that can read English, or any Latin-alphabet-using language, is of course not important before the almighty EULA of dooooooooom.

  3. winkybb says:

    My first thought upon reading the headline was that they had been given boxes of pharmaceuticals.

    Upon reading the whole thing though, I remain a little uneasy at the notion that African villages are nothing more than experiments waiting to be undertaken for the purposes of research into human learning.

    ‘”….it would need to continue for another a year and a half to two years to come to a conclusion that the scientific community would accept,” Negroponte said. “We’d have to start with a new village and make a clean start.”’

    • sarahnocal says:

       I agree..I guess now they will find out how miserable they are.
      Also a note, neither of the towns mentioned come up in a search. In fact the only hits I get are direct links to this article. There are a lot of sites about Wenchi Ethiopia which is a popular place for eco tourism, so there are certainly opportunities for exposure to the written word… The whole story makes me uneasy; so we want to preserve primitive cultures, but only in ways that are comfortable to 1st worlders?

    • African villages are nothing more than experiments waiting to be undertaken for the purposes of research into human learning.

      the point is not research into human learning but to see if giving the uneducated computers helps them to become literate and productive peoples or if giving them computers is a waste of time and money.

      from the preliminary results listed it seems that they are indeed becoming literate and learning process skills.

    • It just goes to show you we place too much emphasis on putting people in classrooms to learn. More peer to peer and experimental learning should be used to really aid learning in our own life and work.

  4. timquinn says:

    Whole thing smells of fiction. They found whole villages that had never seen writing and gave them laptops? First thing the kids said when they turned it on was “Fucking linux bullshit.”

  5. Awesomeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! says:

    A young lady’s illustrated primer

  6. winkybb says:

    Most dangerous place to stand at a technology conference? Between Negroponte and a camera.

  7. chortick says:

    Sugata Mitra has spoken on this phenomenon.

    @boingboing-7020b2c8a7fcf98937fced7a6028f188:disqus  See Dr Mitra’s comments to the effect that “people made accusations that someone must have taught the kids, so we moved the experiment to a remote village, where I was assured that nobody had taught anyone anything, ever.”

    A powerful dynamic that he identified was that kids would figure out something, then share it with each other.  Their learning was collaborative, and didn’t depend on what a teacher could communicate.  Once any kid worked it out, they all did.

    • A powerful dynamic that he identified was that kids would figure out something, then share it with each other

      Well yeah I don’t think you have to find an isolated Ethiopian village to see if that happens.

    • timquinn says:

      see Margaret Mead being had by ‘natives’ in the south pacific. 

      “He said he would give us the “strange machines” if we assured him that we had never taught our children anything at all. Who is to say what kind of teachers we are?”

      • cdh1971 says:

        True, but I suspect Meg wished to be ‘had’ on a subconscious level in terms of wishing her research to confirm her hypotheses and her other preconceived notions. 

        Confirmation-bias happens to even the best, plus, during most of her career, the term confirmation-bias hadn’t even been coined. We can recall that even scientists, researchers and whomever with awareness of C-B who do their best to prevent it, their research results are still affected by it. 

        Now, if Margaret had been ‘had’ on a physical level, I totally understand. Good for her.

        Prof. Mead may have been tricked by the natives she studied. This might be embarrassing to her, but it shouldn’t be. What subsequent academics learned as a result of discovering the trickery was, I reckon, much more valuable and useful than her original research. 

        Margaret Mead took the initial plunge and we need to respect her for this, instead of nit-picking how she got stuff wrong. The same goes for Sigmund Freud. 

        (timquinn – I started rambling and in the process I forgot why I was responding to your comment, which I liked.)

    • Girard says:

       Kylie Peppler has some good writings on her work with inner city kids programming in Scratch and making digital artwork. This story reminded me of an anecdote from her work about a middle-school girl with severe learning disabilities, who was illiterate, but took to the Scratch programming environment pretty naturally, and made a relatively sophisticated (for her age and expected ability) art piece that included sound (recorded herself), image, animation, and interaction. In creating this piece, she actually wound up developing her traditional literacy skills alongside the digital literacy skills, as she became more adept at naming her files, organizing them in folders, searching for images online, and reading through file names to import things, etc.

      Peppler’s argument was that the type of narrow “get them math and reading, then we’ll talk about arts or computer classes” instrumentalist thinking about education operates under a false assumption that traditional literacies are more fundamental or primary than other literacies (visual, digital, etc.), when that isn’t necessarily the case.

  8. hyljelyhje says:

    The article mentions that adults in the village were taught to use the tablets, so it is not clear how much the children actually learned just by themselves.

    • aliktren says:

      My guess is “most of what they learned” – my four year old took to my tablet like a duck to water, figured out the play store all on his own and downloaded about 50 games, managed to spend 14 quid on in game purchases whilst experimenting, and figured out how to play, all by himself, all the games he downloaded, some of them he got pretty good at, he also managed to add icons to the desktop, move stuff around, learned how to turn the sound up and down, this was all with only minor observation of what I did and a lot of fiddling on his own…. he knows a lot of stuff on that tablet that my technophobe wife hasnt figured out at all

  9. Paul Harrison says:

    The opportunity cost here is hiring a teacher or two. There’s a balance. If your society has absolutely no-one with time available to teach children, you’ve gone so far wrong it’s not funny. Doesn’t matter how poor (and think about the wider system in which some areas are poor and others obscenely rich and able to leave air droppings like this). Negroponte’s ideology doesn’t really allow for that though.

  10. retepslluerb says:

    A bunch of illiterate kids “hacked” Android?

    That would be reason enough to drop Android as a serious OS, as it is clearly unsafe.

    Fortunately, it’s just hyperbole, as they just enabled the camera which had been turned off before shipping.

    Still a neat feat. Reminds me of the many times I set up digital clocks and VCR by trial and error. Though I started from a much more privileged

    Kids are smart. Look up Needle, experiment, hole in the wall. There was a similar experiment around 2000 at an Indian Slum, where the kids learnt to use a GUI without outside help. “Needle” was their name for the cursor.

    • hughstimson says:

      Perhaps he’s referring to the other meaning of the word “hack”, as in “creative and unanticipated use of technology to solve to a problem”.

      • retepslluerb says:

        In which way is using the setting “enable camera” creative and unanticipated? 

        I don’t want to belittle the kids’ work – deciphering such a machine and its logic is quite a task. But as long as they stay within the bounds of the interface, it’s not hacking. 

        • Girard says:

           I would say, assuming the description in the source article is correct, that their changing the desktop appearance, rather than the camera thing, would qualify as “hacking” under a broad-but-valid definition of the word. It is said that there were software safeguards in place explicitly designed to prevent changing those settings, and the children circumvented them by unorthodox means to access greater functionality. It’s not low-level “hacking,” but I would say it’s “hacking” in the sense that people who root their phones or install homebrew on their Wii can be said to have “hacked” the device.

        • cdh1971 says:

          Okay, I see what you mean. But ‘hacking’ has become an expanded euphemism. In 95 percent of the usage of the word ‘hacking’ I’ve seen over the last 12 or fifteen years, the word has described stuff similar to what these kids did to figure how to use the tablets.

          Retepslluerb, I think that, by even James Kilpatrick’s method of reckoning (I miss his grammar column sooo much), I think we need to accept, that, even if we don’t like it, the meaning of this word has changed. We still don’t have to like it though, but it’s a useful term for when we don’t need to be too precise.

          I would use my grandmother’s cohort’s word to describe their learning method, but in this context it would be non-PC and wilfully obnoxious and provocative for me to use it. 

          So, can we agree that they learned how to use the thing by Fuking-Around with it?  

    • Kids are smart

      I remember taking my son to a museum when he was about 18 months old, and before he had started to going to child care. A school group with young children was going through at the same time. My son seemed to recognise the classic configuration: children sitting on the floor in a circle listening to a teacher. He ran over and made a place between two kids and joined in. This makes me wonder if group learning behaviour like that is instinctive behaviour in humans.

      • MrBrownThumb says:

        Something similar happened with my nephew when I took him to the library for the first time when he was a few months older than your son. 

        What blew me away when it happened was that before joining them he turned to me and asked rather excitedly, “Friends? Are these my friends?” 

        Aside from relatives, he’d previously hadn’t had much contact with other kids, and certainly none his age and general height.

        All the warm fuzzies were quickly washed away when some of the kids recognized he was an interloper and gave him the stink eye or shoved him out of the group. 

        Kids are amazing, but they’re also asshats. 

  11. Jorpho says:

    Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”

    Elaborating later on Negroponte’s hacking comment, Ed McNierney, OLPC’s chief technology officer, said that the kids had gotten around OLPC’s effort to freeze desktop settings. “The kids had completely customized the desktop—so every kids’ tablet looked different. We had installed software to prevent them from doing that,” McNierney said.

    Either this is a huge exaggeration, or this “disabling” and “effort” and “prevention” was utterly pathetic and the software people involved will probably not be putting this work on their resumes.

    Of course, as always, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

  12. misterx001 says:

    What I love is that Negroponte had to travel all the way to Africa to find a poor child without access to a decent education.

    Oh right, there aren’t any poor people in the U.S., just lazy moochers who won’t take responsibility for their lives. My mistake.

  13. kmoser says:

    Resourceful people are clever. News at 11.

  14. umbrarchist says:

    So it took 53 years for reality to catch up with science fiction?

    The Fourth R (1959) by George O. Smith

  15. caipirina says:

    Why did they had to pick Ethiopia? Has one of the worst internet connections in the world. Especially outside of Addis. So, they basically could only use the apps that came on the tablets … 

  16. jerwin says:

    For some reason, I am reminded of this Mike Resnick story For I Have Touched the Sky

  17. giantasterisk says:

    So in five weeks they “hacked” Android, but it was months later that they observed a kid spell the word “Lion.” As someone who knows almost nothing about programming, I find this baffling. Could someone define “hacking” in the context they’re using it?

    • robuluz says:

      Could someone define “hacking” in the context they’re using it?

      Found the ‘settings’ tab.

    • Mackay Bell says:

      I think the kid meant he wanted OS X Lion.

      • SamSam says:

        The kids hacked the computer to spit out “Help, I’m an Andorid system trapped in an OLPC tablet! Upgrade me to OS X Lion” over and over and over again.

        Then they upvoted the suggestion on StackOverflow about what to do with the laptops and fell over themselves laughing when Negroponte’s people were amazed.

    • Girard says:

      “Hacking” in the broad sense to mean “circumventing imposed limits of use in software via unorthodox means to access greater functionality,”  I think.

  18. This just goes to show you that we put too much emphasis on learning classroom style.  If the kids in Ethiopia are able to learn via doing and peer to peer support surely this is the way forward for individual and organisational learning?

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