Laptops for kids

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Negroponte More Positive on Teacher Training

“One Laptop Per Child is key, making learning more seamless with living, play and family life, versus being limited to school. Teacher preparation is important, in parallel with peer-to-peer and self-education,” I never thought Negroponte was seriously ignoring teacher training. Many people I have spoken to in the Philippines react to OLPC with skepticism, and suggest that it might be better to stick with the lab-based shared-user computing model currently being rolled out slowly. However, I think there is a big difference between getting 1-3 hours lab access a week, compared to access to computing and dynamic global knowledge sources 16 hours a day. Personal-mobile computing is a completely different thing from shared-use computer labs.

Transforming the roles of teachers

Negroponte has minimized the importance of teacher training:

'Once children have the laptops, they'll teach themselves, he predicted, making teacher training beside the point. "Teachers teach the kids? Give me a break," he said. "Give any kid an electronic game and the first thing they do is throw away the manual and the second thing they do is use it." ' = ZDNet

Certainly for some of the brightest students, perhaps all the teachers need to do is get out of the way. However, even for that, many teachers will require training to change their approach to teaching and not become obstacles. However, for many students, especially the majority who have almost no family exposure to reading or English, I think a certain kind of training is essential.

At the least, I think teachers need to be trained for a transformation of their role. I believe they will need to go through a process of rethinking what it means for them to be a teacher, and if they can be simultaneously get assistance in acquiring competencies to play their new roles.

There are at least three important dimensions to such a role transformation that I have been thinking about. Many teachers stop growing intellectually after they graduate from university, and at least in some schools (and many public schools) have never learned to innovate in their knowledge or skills. Transformation 1): Teacher as Life-Long Learner. Of course there has been a lot of talk about continuing professional education for teachers, and for public schools there is always some in-service training programs. However, a connected digital robots gives them a tool to take personal responsibility for their continuing intellectual growth. I fear that many will not take advantage of those tools without at least some training, and some effort to build teacher networks.

I have read a number of articles that express skepticism about OLPC meeting the needs of the developing world. I think one reason that it is an exciting and important prospect is that it make possible Transformation 2): Teacher as Knowledge Worker. Many professionals of all sorts (marketing, journalist, researcher, practically any field) have seen the nature of work transformed with the surge of the World Wide Web around 1995. In many cases, the work has become more knowledge intensive, building on the infrastructure of global networks. Many traditional jobs are turning increasingly knowledge worker jobs. Many professionals, and increasingly non-professionals, have acquired first a desktop then a laptop, and the availability of those tools has expanded and transformed their daily work in many ways. Those people, many of them with kids in school, know instinctively that the teachers job also needs to go through such a transformation into modern knowledge work. Unfortunately, in most schools in the Philippines, such a transformation is barely beginning, and needs to be given a jumpstart to prevent it from stalling completely.

The third transformation is related to the OLPC educational philosophy of constructivism. This approach is also promoted in the Basic Education Curriculum recently instituted by the Philippine Department of Education, but not yet very successfully I hear. Transformation 3): Teacher as Facilitator. Unfortunately, a lot of teaching in Philippine schools is a narrow, even authoritarian, role of presenting content without ensuring there is a meaningful learning experience for all kids in the class. I suspect some of this teaching style is linked to language and communication difficulties. Once connected digital notebooks are in the hands of many students, and also their teachers, the opportunities for independent learning expands enormously. Many kids will learn no matter what the teachers do, but I fear that many will get left behind. Specifically, those kids who are already disadvantaged and have inadequate language and reading skills will suffer more than kids of the wealthier families. An OLPC roll-out will undoubtedly have a big effect on any digital divide, but I don't think it will automatically bridge the gap between the marginalized classes and those from "knowledge-rich" families. Many, probably the majority, of students in Philippine public schools will need some adult facilitation, to point the in a good direction, help define appropriate goals, to give them encouragement and feedback. To some extent, help can come from contacts over the network, but the role of an adult in the classroom, where they can actually observe how the kids respond to various learning experiences, will remain very important.