While laptops fall outside of my personal definition of “mobile learning,” due to their size, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project does help to inform much of the strategy and pedagogy of mobile learning and is therefore noteworthy here.
The project was originally aimed at putting cheap but highly practical laptops in the hands of the world’s most underprivileged children in developing countries. While the laptops are cheap to manufacture at around US$150 each (a price expected to fall by almost half in the next three years), they provide a full computing platform that supports the latest in social, constructivist, and connected learning theories and activities, including ad-hoc wireless networking, webcam, microphone, SD memory card slot and built-in speakers.
With such great functionality at such a low manufacturing price, there have been thousands of people in developed countries interested in buying an OLPC for their own private use. However, the OLPC has maintained strict adherance to its core mission, and combines design features to prevent the devices from being used by anyone other than children, for any purpose other than education; to prevent them making their way to the black market, for example, the devices can be remotely disabled to render them useless.
While Australia ranks among the world’s developed countries, there is no doubt, however, that some of our regionally located indigenous populations live in conditions of poverty equal to those in third-world countries overseas. Happily, out first-world status as a country will not deny our neediest children access to these machines, and according to The Age, Rangan Srikhanta, a treasurer with the United Nations Association of Australia, is liasing with local governments, universities and the OLPC group to organise local trials:
He asserts that there are many children in “developed” countries, such as Australia, that are exposed to conditions typical of those expected in developing countries.
“We are working to get this laptop to the Northern Territory, where we feel that it could be very beneficial,” he said.
“There are numerous other areas in Queensland, WA, SA, NSW, Vic and Tas that hold equal potential.”
This is an excellent outcome. Let’s hope that mobile computing continues to support opportunities for education for the world’s most needy children, everywhere.