Is Intel Better Than OLPC In Teaching Kids At The Bottom Of The Pyramid?

One of the hottest controversies around is that between Intel and the One Laptop Per Child Foundation over the best approach to educate poor children in rural villages in India, Africa, China, Latin America and the Middle East and the best article written on the subject recently is by Bruce Einhorn out of HongKong.

The battle pits giant Intel, a private corporation dominant in its field and searching for new markets, against non-pofit OLPC using open-source linux, a group of highly talented designers (fuseproject’s Yves Behar, Pentagram’s Lisa Strausefeld), in a high-profile effort backed by Google, eBay and AMD led by the uber-technologist Nicholas Negroponte, ex-MIT Media Lab.

The clash involves many critical issues: private vs. non-profit, closed vs. open source software and technology, big guys vs little guys, top down innovation vs. bottoms up innovation, and of course, cost of the computer tool (the XO laptop has moved up from $100 towards $200 and Intel’s “Wintel” Classmate PC has dropped from $300 toward’s $200).

But one absolutely critical issue that trumps all the others is education—how best to teach kids at the bottom of the pyramid. So far, the conversation about XO has been dominated by geek stuff, not educational stuff. The XO has mesh networking, dual mode screens, longer battery life, a fantastic Sugar interface, using it with iRobot Create. But where’s the debate over digital lesson plans in local languages, team teaching, long-distance education?

And in this discussion, Intel may be doing better than the XO. A version of Intel’s Classmate PC is already on sale in Mexico and elsewhere and it is—this is key—bundled with educational material software and teacher support. Einhorn quotes Martin Gilliland, Asia-Pacific research director for Gartner Inc. “In Mexico and elsewhere, Intel bundles its Classmates with education software and teacher-training support. “That’s something Intel needs to be credited for,” says Gilliland.

Hmm. Intel claims to be invested $1 billion in teacher education in 50 countries around the world. It says that more than 4 million teachers have been trained in its program and plans a total of 13 million by 2011.

The role of the teacher also appears to have played a role in the rejection of the OLPC program in India.

According to the Hindu News: “New Delhi, July 25. (PTI): Rejecting the Planning Commission’s idea of implementing ‘One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Scheme’ as “paedagogically suspect”, the HRD Ministry feels it would be appropriate to instead utilise the money for universalization of secondary education.

“The case for giving a computer to every single is paedagogically suspect. It may actually be detrimental to the growth of creative and analytical abilities of the child”, Education Secretary Sudeep Banerjee told the Planning Commission in a letter sent last month.

“…..We cannot visualize a situation for decades when we can go beyond the pilot stage. We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools,” Banerjee said.

True or not, this argument is at the heart of the current discussion about the “failure of OLPC.” The XO itself is a marvel of design and collaboration function. I want one. All of my friends want one, just like they want an iPhone. But where is the input from those Indian teachers, where is the conversation about the different ways of learning in oral vs written cultures, and where are those digital lesson plans in 50 languages?

I don’t know. Maybe the rumors of the XO being able to run Microsoft Windows will be the answer. If Intel is creating educational software and training teachers, then combining Intel’s efforts with OLPC’s work makes for the optimal solution.

I dunno. What do you think?

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