The One Laptop Per Child project started several years ago with the idea that inexpensive, solar-powered computers could help bring children in Third World countries into the information age. So far it’s worked really well. To push the limits of the project, volunteers tried an experiment: they gave laptops to two Ethiopian villages where the literacy rate is near zero, and there are no schools, no printed signs, and no books. They didn’t show the kids how to use the tablets. They just delivered a box with enough for every child in each village.
“We left the boxes in the village. Closed. Taped shut. No instruction, no human being. I thought, the kids will play with the boxes! Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, but found the on/off switch. He’d never seen an on/off switch. He powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village. And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android.”
What’s more, the children were using the computers to teach their parents! The One Laptop Per Child program may eventually do an end run around the prohibitive expense of building schools and hiring teachers for some places.