It's a Vision Thing: Our Own Politicians Could Learn a Lot from the Forward-Thinking Efforts Being Made Internationally to Reform Education

By Fletcher, Geoffrey H. | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), August 2006 | Go to article overview

It's a Vision Thing: Our Own Politicians Could Learn a Lot from the Forward-Thinking Efforts Being Made Internationally to Reform Education


Fletcher, Geoffrey H., T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE CERTAINLY has been getting a lot of exposure these days, both in the national and international press and at conferences--most recently at the National Educational Computing Conference in San Diego. And deservedly so. A founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, Negroponte is now sharing his vision of a low-cost computing device that can be used to transform education and eventually the economies of third-world nations. His determination to turn that powerful idea into a working prototype, and to get United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to buy into it, is most worthy of attention. One Laptop per Child (www.laptop.org), the nonprofit association set up to support Negroponte's vision, is a clear, encapsulated expression of that vision.

I had the opportunity to see the prototype up close at the recent EduStat conference, hosted by SchoolNet (www.schoolnet.com) in New York City. Walter Bender, president of software and content for OLPC, was eloquent in his account of the evolution of the device, and in his description of Negroponte's goals.

One Laptop per Child is not alone in its efforts. Mexico's President Vicente Fox announced that his nation will team with Intel (www.intel.com) to provide PCs to 300,000 Mexican school teachers. In addition, Intel says it is investing more than $1 billion over the next five years in a program "to speed access to uncompromised technology and education for people in the world's developing communities." The company wants to extend broadband PC access to third-world users while training 10 million more teachers in the use of technology in education. (The plan includes a low-cost--around $400--PC.)

Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) is getting involved too. It has been working on its own "low-cost" gadget, code-named Origami, which may come out in the next year. Project Inkwell (www.projectinkwell.com) is working on a similar tool, and AMD (www.amd.com) has already rolled out its Personal Internet Communicator, an affordable device aimed at first-time technology users that includes a lower-power, lower-performance processor and comes with only a basic version of Windows. AMD says giving conventional computers to schools in some developing regions often is unproductive because conventional computers are too complex for novice users to run and maintain.

Not to be overlooked among all these plans, prototypes, and pronouncements is a piece of hardware that actually is being shipped and used in schools--the Nova5000 from Fourier Systems (www.fourier-sys.com). It runs on Windows CE, has a seven-inch, touch-sensitive color display and handwriting recognition software, and weighs 2.4 pounds with battery. Fourier has a number of partners providing software and services for the Nova5000, which is being distributed by Dell (www.dell.com), CDW-G (www.cdwg.com), and Ingram Micro (www.ingrammicro.com).

But aside from the Nova5000, the issue of the distribution of these devices in this country is plainly absent from the discussion. Last time I checked, we were at a 3.8-to-1 student-to-computer ratio nationwide. We also are sorely lacking in national leadership. President Bush recommended zero dollars for educational technology in his latest budget, and the current appropriations bill in the House of Representatives also eliminates ed tech funding. Our primary hope rests with the Senate, where wiser folks often prevail.

One country that is not lacking for national leadership in education is Great Britain. …

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