Illiterate Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves How to Use Tablets

Upon struggling to turn the virtual pages of a news app on a loved one’s iPad, I was told that a two-year-old could operate the [incredibly intuitive] tablet better than I could.

Maybe I could hold my own against a two-year-old in a laptop-usage contest, but apparently not against a first-grade-aged Ethiopian child.

Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the One Laptop Per Child organization, whose goal is to provide each student in the world with a low-cost, low-power but connected laptop, shared an incredible story at MIT Technology Review‘s EmTech conference. The organization dropped off a group of tablets with preloaded alphabet-training games, e-books, movies, cartoons, and other educational programs to 20 illiterate first-grade-aged children in rural villages in Ethiopia to see how the children adapted to the technology.

The results were amazing. Within several months, the children could not only operate the tablets expertly but had hacked into them! The kids learned how to operate the camera that had been disabled by One Laptop Per Child, and also figured out how to customize the tablets’ desktops after the organization had installed software to prevent them from doing so.

In Negroponte’s talk, he explained the effect the tablets had on student literacy: “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid opened the box, found the on-off switch … and powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android.”

The point of the experiment was to illustrate the natural curiosity and inquiry children possess, and how those instincts can lead to discoveries that lead to learning. We’ll certainly keep an eye on One Laptop Per Child over the next few months, and post any news they might share, particularly as they look for more funding.

Watch Negroponte’s talk from the EmTech conference below — click on the one hour mark and it begins there.

Watch live streaming video from emtech2012 at livestream.com

Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.

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About Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.