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How Laptops in Education Can Help Dictators, Hurt Learning 122

Posted by timothy
from the digital-cassandras dept.
holy_calamity writes "New Scientist reports on worries that the OLPC's BitFrost security protocols could hand a ready-made surveillance system to controlling 3rd world governments. The laptops identify themselves regularly to a server that can disable individual machines reported stolen — a system that hands a government a kill switch for every unit. BitFrost also has the potential to have machines attach a unique ID to every internet transaction, helping out anyone wanting to track net internet use. A freely available paper from a recent USENIX conference spells out the concerns." Relatedly, an anonymous reader points out a story at Slate about a study which examined the impact that free PCs had on poor students in Romania, writing that "giving the kids machines without a corresponding level of parental supervision just resulted in distractions which ultimately damaged academic performance. By contrast, allowing children access to machines in a supervised setting, say an after school program via school labs, might mitigate some of the negative effects."
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How Laptops in Education Can Help Dictators, Hurt Learning

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  • In other news... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by oodaloop (1229816) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @02:19PM (#23672421)
    Dictators use whatever means at their disposal to control their people.

    Details at 11.
    • by Americano (920576) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @02:36PM (#23672731)
      I think the point of TFA is that the OLPC's security system can be mis-used as an assistive technology for those dictators in their efforts to control their people.

      I wonder if you'd be equally glib in your dismissal if this article were about Google filtering content at the request of Chinese authorities [wikipedia.org], or Yahoo disclosing the identities [guardian.co.uk] of people advocating democratic reforms?
      • by nbates (1049990)
        Or you can avoid giving the government the control. They only have to go to your house.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Duradin (1261418)
        Anything can be misused as an assistive technology for dictators in their efforts to control their people.

        Pen(cil) and paper? Leaves written records. A certain Cardinal had a pertinent quote for that.

        The kid sitting next to you? Would probably sell you out so he could get a bag of rice for his family that is starving.

        Who do you think would employ the teachers if the dictator is that paranoid or controlling? Commit a thoughtcrime against The Most Benevolent Leader and you and your family go off on a permanen
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Americano (920576)
          I'm not sure I understand your point. Or are you not making one?

          This system provides a ready-made, wide-scale system for any government to track your internet usage, and then decide "you, right there, you've had enough internet exposure to progressive ideas, no more internet for you. And we'll be by with cable ties & a black hood later on, so you might want to say goodbye to your family and friends."

          There is a very real concern here. Dismissing it because "well, anything can be abused, really,"
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by statemachine (840641)
            I understood his point just fine. The laptop's usefulness outweighs the near-zero access to information they had before. If a gov't shuts down the laptops (after it just paid for them?) then it's not like anything was lost.

            As far as surveillance, that happens on any network, all the time. We're only quibbling about the degree, not if.
            • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

              by Americano (920576)

              I understood his point just fine.

              I'm not sure you did. His argument was that any technology has the potential for misuse - essentially, that dictators will repress their people with or without this particular piece of assistive technology. Therefore, the conclusion seems to be that any concern about the ease & scale at which a technology enables said repression is misplaced, and irrelevant.

              The laptop's usefulness outweighs the near-zero access to information they had before.

              The laptop's usefulness

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Torvaun (1040898)
                This security system increases the ease of flagging unauthorized content almost as much as it increases the ease of accessing unauthorized content.
              • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

                by Duradin (1261418)
                It's the old "but it's not a perfect solution!" claptrap.

                Yes, bit frost is a flawed solution.

                No, there isn't a perfect solution nor will there ever be a perfect solution.

                Do we sit around and wait for the perfect solution or do we try to make due with what we have available?

                Anyways, a repressive regime most likely wouldn't even allow the project (which is paid for at the government level) into the country. Go find some other near dead horse to beat.
              • Congratulations on missing the nuances and turning this into a binary argument.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by colmore (56499)
            You're correct. But this isn't a special problem of OLPC and poor governments. It is merely the exact same problem that the wealthy world has with windows. Just look at the current round of copyright and internet policing legislation happening in Europe. Look at China.

            This report phrases the problem as if it were specific to societies that are somehow undersophisticated.

            Criticism of the report aside. The OLPC should get rid of that anti-user bull shit pronto. Thieves are going to know about it and cir
          • Anything can be misused as an assistive technology for dictators in their efforts to control their people.

            It's RIGHT THERE. THE FIRST SENTENCE IN HIS POST.

            You understood.

            Google and Yahoo, to name 2, have been roundly slagged for making it easier for repressive governments to control their citizenry.

            And ou can't see the very obvious and real difference between actively collaborating with the opressive government and providing a toll that can, in certain instance, be used by said oppressive government?

            If you

        • Pen(cil) and paper?


          Can't tell anyone what you're writing on it. It also can't tell people where you are currently located.

          ... The kid sitting next to you?

          Doesn't know what you're writing, or what you're reading, and can only give up your location while he or she is actually sitting next to you.

          You can't dismiss this issue so easily.
      • by oodaloop (1229816)
        Yeah, pointy sticks can be misused too. You could poke an eye out!
    • by steelfood (895457)
      More like:

      Kids with computers will use them to play games.
    • by colmore (56499) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @04:38PM (#23674761) Journal
      Thank you.

      This is a kind of report and study that I cannot stand. Laptops cause all these problems in the developed world for middle class kids as well. But nobody says suburban tweens shouldn't have the internet. I doubt very much that they are on the whole better supervised than Romanians or Africans, basing this on my own internet-connected undersupervsed childhood in the suburbs which I might add, turned out pretty much OK.

      As for dictators? People in glass houses, come the hell on. Maybe not America too much, yet, but from every thing I seem to be reading about half of Europe, Big Brother has been on laptops in the developed world for quite some time.

      There's such a tendency to hold the poor to standards we do not apply to ourselves. I find it kind of disgusting.
      • by dunng808 (448849)

        basing this on my own internet-connected undersupervsed childhood in the suburbs which I might add, turned out pretty much OK.

        OK? Is it possible to post comments on /. and still be OK? I'm not so sure ... I guess maybe it depends on the limit set by "pretty much." See, I think of /. in a Slaughterhouse-Five sort of way; if you are here you cannot be normal. And I am here.

        I agree with your view; this story is fud. The concerns about abuse of security may be well intentioned but nevertheless reek of paran

        • by colmore (56499)
          I'd still say no security is fine.

          Third-world theives are sophisticated enough to format a hard drive before booting a system.
  • by simpl3x (238301)
    My problem with the use of computers is that we need to use them effectively in order for them to be anything other than eBook readers. But being an eBook reader will be valuable enough. The texts are too static and do not accommodate teacher needs; allowing the computer to become the active text is incredibly important.

    We all have ADD, but using this as an excuse against incorporating computers into the classroom is increasingly senseless. Shouldn't we be teaching effective skills for communicating with su
    • by NJVil (154697)
      We do not all have ADD. Yes, we all do get distracted from time to time. However, this is not ADD, and diagnosing it as ADD is not helpful.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Birds are pretty.
        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Let's ride bikes.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BlowHole666 (1152399)
      You are talking about a 3rd world country who may not have been brought up on the amount of technology as many people in the west have been brought up on. You think parents of kids today are clueless of internet dangers. Think about the people in some 3rd world countries. So think of it like this, someone gives a poor person 100 million dollars but says you have to not touch the money and pay attention to a boring class all day. I think you would tell the teacher to F off and you would take your 100 million
    • by Beorytis (1014777)

      allowing the computer to become the active text is incredibly important.
      Yes. That way the government can change the story at will and we don't have the documentation to prove them wrong later.
    • The texts are too static and do not accommodate teacher needs; allowing the computer to become the active text is incredibly important.

      No, it's not important at all. Until AI advances enormously to the point that software is as smart as human teachers, "active text" is a bunch of silicon snake oil [berkeley.edu], just a higher tech incarnation of programmed text [wikipedia.org]. Haven't heard of programmed text? Think the non-fiction equivalent of a "choose your own adventure" book; after each little lesson you'd answer a question,

  • 3rd World? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wylfing (144940) <(brian) (at) (wylfing.net)> on Thursday June 05, 2008 @02:24PM (#23672533) Homepage Journal

    3rd-world dictators? Shyeah. Try "all governments everywhere."

  • .. downloading Portman piccies.. and now my Toaster is snagging MS apps.. If my printer gets involved it will eat me out of cartidges in no time...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    By contrast, allowing children access to machines in a supervised setting, say an after school program via school labs, might mitigate some of the negative effects

    Then again, it might not.

  • by i.r.id10t (595143) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @02:34PM (#23672669)
    Anyone give this a read? A way to fight back... maybe?

    Thought of posting this a few weeks ago re: the tracker tags a Texas school was using, but missed out on a near-top post.

    Read it...

    http://craphound.com/littlebrother/ [craphound.com]

    • Paranoid Linux (Score:4, Informative)

      by Chris Pimlott (16212) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @03:05PM (#23673217)
      A group of users have decided to try to implement Paranoid Linux as described in the book. It's a Linux distribution meant for use under oppressive regimes. It assumes you are under surveillance and actively attempts to veil your communications by hiding it among automatically generated random activity. Reminds me of the scheme Randy uses in Cryptonomicon [wikipedia.org] to avoid eavesdropping on his laptop while trapped in his cell.

      They appear to be in the very early stages only, but an interesting and potentially very worthy project.
      paranoidlinux.org [paranoidlinux.org]
  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @02:36PM (#23672725)
    True, this all is quite a problem, but for every problem, there's a solution. For every surveillance method, there's some talented kid out there figuring a way to circumvent it.

    One of the geekier recipients of these laptops will engineer a way around this BS...and then he'll share that info with his less-geeky friends. The government will have considerably less control than it thinks it does.
    • by mckinnsb (984522) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @02:43PM (#23672837)

      True, this all is quite a problem, but for every problem, there's a solution. For every surveillance method, there's some talented kid out there figuring a way to circumvent it. One of the geekier recipients of these laptops will engineer a way around this BS...and then he'll share that info with his less-geeky friends. The government will have considerably less control than it thinks it does.
      And in the end, isn't that what OLPC is all about?
    • by Americano (920576)

      True, this all is quite a problem, but for every problem, there's a solution. For every surveillance method, there's some talented kid out there figuring a way to circumvent it.

      Just as likely, for every talented kid figuring out a way to circumvent the system, there'll be a government agency ready to arrest him and throw him in jail [wikipedia.org] for his troubles...

      When hacking becomes, quite literally, a matter of life and death, rather than a cool geek adventure like WarGames, you might be surprised at how quickly

    • by Eskarel (565631)
      I think the bigger point is why in the name of god do the OLPC laptops have this surveillance method implemented.

      My laptop doesn't have a remote kill switch put into it to prevent "theft", it doesn't tie a unique identifier to my internet transactions(my ISP does, but that's not my laptop). There's no reason for any of this stuff to be on the laptop for some geeky kid to need to get around.

    • by inKubus (199753)
      Although it's an interesting point to think about. In a lot of third world countries, the reason the people are so poor is due to a powerful ruling class. Therefore enabling subversiveness, so the kids can learn to avoid those that wish to enslave them, might be a good goal for a computer/communications device. I mean, that's what it's all about. Change, for the better. If they've engineered the laptop to be controlled effectively by adults, kids aren't going to use it.
  • Supervision. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @02:42PM (#23672809) Homepage Journal
    The Internet is like New York City. You can find anything you want there. From great art and science to the worst filth.
    The same basic rule should apply. Don't let your kids run around unattended.
    • If your kids run around in New York City unattended, they could get lost, kidnapped or in other ways physically harmed. The worst thing that could happen on the internet would be them seeing people doing some unusual things to each other, which has never harmed anyone severely, neither physically nor mentally.
      • by LWATCDR (28044)
        I would say that the vast majority of people will disagree and the never harmed part of that statment.
      • by figa (25712)
        New York City is the safest city in America [bloomberg.com]. My daughter, who is 10, goes out for lunch with her friends every day in Brooklyn. She does not get lost, kidnapped, or in other ways harmed. She gets sushi or pizza.


        You must be thinking of Denver or Phoenix.

  • Such a shady system doesn't exist to help prevent theft of $3,000 laptops, and you're going to put a system in place to protect $100 laptops that are given out for free?

    What a scam, and a shame, this is.

  • Counterproductive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EEBaum (520514) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @02:45PM (#23672863) Homepage
    I've very rarely seen computers useful in courses where the coursework isn't actually computer-related. Programming, digital audio, typing, etc. are all places where computers belong. Anywhere else, I've found them counterproductive to learning. The distraction factor, plus the amount of time spent getting everything to work properly, not to mention having a machine doing something for you that you might otherwise learn to do yourself, make it a waste. This includes calculators in math classes, except when the class has algorithmic concepts that must be simulated.
    • I'll bet you had textbooks and/or access to a library for those non-computer-related courses. Maybe even some films.

      How would you compare the learning productivity for such topics in situations lacking such materials?
      • by EEBaum (520514)
        I'll half give you the point about textbooks, except in very many situations where the textbooks are worthless (the history class I learned the most in, by far, was one where the professor just lectured. No text, no overhead projector, just talking).

        Access to the library is usually for out-of-classroom time, which I have no problem using computers for. Inside the classroom, though, it's distracting.
    • I always found it funny that, in instances where you could be using computers to remove some of the obscene rote memorization that is pretty much required in all the classes like the ones you mentioned as not "needing" computers, everyone seems to think computers are some kind of handicap.

      But it's perfectly normal to have computers in math class, where what you should be learning is a process that you can apply.

      Basically, in my world, all classes should be about the process. Memorize a bunch of history? Or
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by EEBaum (520514)
        Your problem seems to be more with memorization, which I agree, in many situations, is a bass-ackwards way of learning things.

        Perhaps I just had different types of math classes than you, but the ones where I learned the most were ones where there wasn't a piece of electronic equipment in the room, save for pagers (late 90s), digital watches and perhaps the computer the teacher used solely to enter grades.

        Heck, the history class that undid all the cute quasi-legend Americana for me and gave insight as to
    • I was an Interdisciplinary Humanities major in college. I took a lot of non-computer related classes. And I was a hell of a lot more productive when I took notes using my laptop than otherwise.

      Granted, I intentionally kept myself pretty restricted in the technology I used. The wireless drivers didn't work on my laptop, and I never got an external one just because I didn't want to be distracted. (I've since graduated, and now have one.) I also typed up all my notes in emacs fullscreened. I don't mean

  • What the hell ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dbcad7 (771464) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @02:48PM (#23672901)
    Alright, first of all I doubt a dictatorship like the one the poster is worried about is going to allow it's people these laptops in the first place.. and secondly the poster then wants to become a dictator their self in how the laptop is used...

    It reminds me of well off people stressing over giving a pan handler a dollar.. how exactly will that dollar be used ? alchohol ?, lottery tickets ?. ciggarettes ? ... If it's going to stress you out so much then just don't give anything.

    • It reminds me of well off people stressing over giving a pan handler a dollar.. how exactly will that dollar be used ? alchohol ?, lottery tickets ?. ciggarettes ? ...

      Man, it would piss me off if he spent my dollar on a lottery ticket, and won, and could get in touch with me to give me my cut. That's why I always include a card with my home address and hours when I'm usually home when I give out cash to pan handlers.

  • "a ready-made surveillance system to controlling 3rd world governments"

    We've had that here for ages, why did it take them so long to catch up? If not then why have I had six separate visits from the 'anti-terrorist' police and why did the "BBC", come in and photograph all the staff.

    Welcome to the desert of the real [mit.edu] .. :)
  • One article decries the amount of control school (aka evil government) officials have over OLPC computers specifically made for schools, specifically designed to prevent theft and subsequent conversion into general-purpose business/entertainment devices.

    Another article makes all kinds of references to the OLPC program, and cites examples of general-purpose computers in unrestricted setting being misused.

    Neither article mentions the fact that OLPC specifically made an effort to design software that improves
  • ...the less upset I am that I wasn't able to get in on the OLPC "buy one and give a child a laptop" deal.

    Seriously, I researched the hell out of this topic, and this is the first mention I've seen that the laptops call home (or wherever). Just what was the OLPC thinking?

    Sure enough, I missed this link [laptop.org]. Wow...far more sinister than I first suspected.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DamnStupidElf (649844)
      You must have missed the part that said essentially none of the big brother security stuff was enabled on the laptops shipped with the G1G1 program. The only thing still there is the presence of a BIOS lock requiring a developer key (which you can easily get) to flash the firmware with your own image.
    • If you have a laptop from the Give-1-Get-1 program, you can easily obtain a developer key from the OLPC website that lets you bypass the security restrictions [laptop.org]. You can then install any operating system you want on the machine.
  • by JoeCommodore (567479) <larry@portcommodore.com> on Thursday June 05, 2008 @02:54PM (#23673027) Homepage
    Back in my high school days (80s), we had limited access to the computers (the PETs were in the computer room which was usually open for lunch for free time),

    When I was not in front of the keyboard I was reading about computers in magazines or planning what I wanted to do next with the computer, I wrote so much code and other ideas on notebook paper helped get my pre-planning skills developed.

    I am not sure full 24/7 access is better or not for kids to appreciate computers. But I can think it can be a major distraction if it is connected to the net all the time (and not just for the nasty stuff).

    Limiting network access would be a good thing. then they can think and plan on what to do while connected. And/or work on stuff while not connected without the distraction of all that stuff on-line.
  • You mean access to technology doesn't automatically turn kids into brilliant overachievers?!?!?!

    I am shocked! Shocked I tell ya!
  • > ready-made surveillance system to controlling 3rd world governments

    How does this differ from the surveillance in the UK, US etc?
  • According to the study, which can be found at http://harrisschool.uchicago.edu/About/publications/working-papers/pdf/wp_08_12.pdf [uchicago.edu] they used a regression analysis to determine their outcome. This isn't exactly the most powerful form of empirical evidence. In fact, it's smack-dab in the middle of the levels of evidence based practice you can have: "Outcomes" Research or ecological studies. So we're already starting off with a pretty mediocre argument. In addition, the research paper does not identify its l
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Americano (920576)

      Then there is the argument that laptops are bad for a student's behavioral and academic outcomes. I'd have to strongly disagree.[...]

      I swear this is not a troll. I am asking this question earnestly hoping for a real answer, so please, read it in that spirit.

      I understand, and agree, with your characterization of computers as assistive technology for children with disabilities. My mother worked as a speech pathologist in a public school system, and I got to see some of the technology she was using with

    • I also have a personal argument for the laptops; the quality of my public education, at least for me, was shoddy at best. Teachers at my schools were horrible at what they did; I'd say about 5% of my graduating class from high school were even taught calculus and approximately 75% of all students could barely do algebra I.

      From my limited experience, technology only magnifies a person's characteristics. Somebody who wants to learn will be able to learn more, workaholics will work more, goof-offs will just

  • by argent (18001) <[moc.agnorat.6002.todhsals] [ta] [retep]> on Thursday June 05, 2008 @03:11PM (#23673309) Homepage Journal
    When I was a kid, computers in schools meant punch cards at universities. By the time I was a teenager, it was an Apple II in the math lab and the only people interested were the real computer nerds. I was reading about things like PLATO and computer languages designed for teaching... languages better than Basic... but they were out of reach. I figured my kids would benefit.

    Then the personal computer revolution hit its peak and we got an Atari and Logo and all that good stuff, and then my kids were born, but by the time they were old enough to be really interested in computers and what Daddy was doing what they mostly had in school were IBM PCs that were running Office and used to teach kids how to be secretaries and accountants.

    Computers in schools seem to miss the point more often than not.
  • The idealist: Kid's will be able to use it to broaden their horizons
    The kid: Alright, PORN!!

    The idealist: It will educate them and open them up to the outside world
    The kid: Time to scam some wealthy Westerners for more money in 24 hours than I could make doing honest work all year

    The idealist: It will lead to better more educated communities
    The kid: Hey, let's steal that little kid's laptop and sell it on the black market!

    The idealist: ...making them better global citizens
    The kid: Uh, could I

  • ... by tracking and controlling internet access of young children?

    Okay, so they'll have elementary school children cowed into obedience. I'm sure that'll guarantee the dictators something something....

    The Slate article is rambling and incoherent. Although there is a picture of an XO-1 Laptop and there are a couple lonely references to OLPC, the article doesn't address OLPC at all; the author mostly talks about his experiences with a Commodore PET (whose value as a learning tool he implies is greater than th
  • The second a dictator disables such a pc, there will be a crack to reenable it, and the dictator will eventually fall because he THOUGHT he had removed technology from the dissidents.
  • A crying shame that slashdot is reduced to regurgitating this nonsense. This one has to be up there with, OLPC stealing food from the third world hungry ..

  • What's worse (Score:3, Insightful)

    by koan (80826) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @03:57PM (#23674073)

    What's worse is that with an electronic device like a laptop or a "Kindle like" device, information can be easily "updated" to read however the current power structure wants it to.
    Is anyone else nervous that Rupert Murdoch's Corp has taken an interest in electronic textbooks?
    When history gets in the way of some future political power they can simply "update" that e-book or laptop and then it will read as they want it to.

    At least when you printed a book it stayed that way...now information is malleable it's going to become untrustworthy.

    Forced "updates" for "security reasons" and no trustworthy source of information.
  • This is slightly off what the intent of the post (but I think not the article) is, but I question the parents of the kids in Romania... how many of them thought the laptop would focus their child, or really could understand what their kid was doing.

    Most children are going to use anything you give them as a toy first, and a lot of American parents lament the loss of free time to "just be kids" these days... it's very possible that the lost productivity they mentioned was the digital equivalent of kids being
  • Souch negativism. Sounds like wanting to end the project.
  • "giving the kids machines without a corresponding level of parental supervision just resulted in distractions which ultimately damaged academic performance.
    I call bullcrap. I've never had a problem turning in a university project because I've been distracted by my... yay, my Alterac Valley queue is up!
  • . . . a study which examined the impact that free PC's had on poor students in Romania, writing that "giving the kids machines without a corresponding level of parental supervision just resulted in distractions which ultimately damaged academic performance.

    Hmmm . . . really? They needed to do a study on that? Because . . . ummm . . . well . . . DUH!

  • by R4nm4-kun (1302737) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @04:25PM (#23674551)
    First of all, I am a CS bachelor from Romania, and I'd like to state some facts about the study that's referenced here:

    1) The Euro 200 program was just a PR stunt of our goverment to get more votes, it was never ment as an educational program.
    2) This program consisted just in giving a 200 euro reduction to children from relatively poor households if they bought a computer. It was never associated with an educational program, or any educational software(as in programs, ebooks, or anything at all).
    3) The children who benifited from this program being mainly poor children, so even if they wanted to learn something, most of them didn't have the money to buy software, or to pay for an internet connection.
    Adding to this most of the computers you could buy in Romania would come readily installed with a pirated version of Windows and full of pirated games and other pirate booty.
    So let me explain it clearly:

    The study is absolute *insert word here* because:
    Even if those kids wanted to do something else but play pirated games on a pirated version of windows, they couldn't have done it, they didn't have any learning material or an internet connection.
    On top of which there was no educational program that would allow the schools to help the children use the computers for educational purposes.
    (OK, in order to avoid comments, there was and is a computerized educational program in Romania called AEL [advanced e-learning or something like that], which consists in a crappy CMS that's practically unusable, and has such a restrictive licence that you're not even allowed to look at it, not to speak of taking it home, at least this was the case 3 years ago)

    The Euro200 program is totally oposed to the OLPC initiative wich consists in giving children small low-performance linux laptops(at least that was the idea not to long ago) full with educational software and an educational program that makes full use of those notebooks as an educational tool.
    The idea is not in giving children computers, it's in giving them the oportunity to use them as educational tools.
    If you give kids a relatively powerfull desktop with windows and full of games do you really expect them to study all day or to play games all day.
    On The other hand, if you give them low-performance laptops, full with educational software and help them and require them to use these laptops for educational purposes, then you really can expect results.
  • Two things. The XO has a led indicating when the camera is operational.

    The camera doesn't work if you put a sticker over it.

  • by rickb928 (945187) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @05:38PM (#23675605) Homepage Journal
    - Government gives out laptops to schoolchildren

    - Laptops can be 'controlled' by government

    - fear that bad behaviour (in the eyes of the government) will result in laptops being disabled, and schoolchildren punished.

    Wow. Sounds a little like Maine's http://www.mainelearns.org/ [mainelearns.org] MLTI initiative...

    - Hand out laptops

    - Monitor them, after all even though they are inside a protictive proxy server, sometimes bad things get past that...

    - Cut off the entire school system, if necessary, to protect the students.

    - Fear among students that anything interesting will be blocked. taking the laptops home only requires their parents pay for insurance against damage/loss. At a very reasonable (for the insurer) cost.

    - Effective control of the laptops, since they actually belong to the government.

    Well, maybe I'm being a bit harsh. Though I wonder how much OLPCs would cost v. iBooks, and how much more/less useful they would be. The OLPC could use a big Stateside order, eh?

    Don't hold yer breath, chummy...

  • Measuring academic performance doesn't help; maybe school is boring as fuck but there's something interesting on the Internet, and by the time I've failed all my classes I know a damn lot about electronics and mechanical engineering. I did this with computers and security, so did 80s hackers...
  • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @07:36PM (#23676791) Homepage
    The OLPC project has multiple issues. That "security" choice is one of them, as in the Sugar GUI (as
    opposed to plain Gnome desktop). Having said that, the rest of the article is FUD.
    These cheap laptops are revolutionizing the possibilities for planet-wide democracy and education.

    It is true children do better with adult involvement. But kids learn by themselves as well
    when adults can't be present. The "Hole in the Wall" project by Sugata Mitra project shows that:
        http://www.greenstar.org/butterflies/Hole-in-the-Wall.htm [greenstar.org]

    And work by John Holt and John Taylor Gatto and others call into question the political underpinnings
    of the entire enterprise of compulsory education:
        http://www.holtgws.com/johnholtpage.html [holtgws.com]
        http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/toc1.htm [johntaylorgatto.com]
        http://www.newciv.org/whole/schoolteacher.txt [newciv.org]
        http://www.social-ecology.org/article.php?story=20031028151034651 [social-ecology.org]

    Here is an essay I wrote on "The true cost of a Princeton-style education in the OLPC era":
        http://www.pdfernhout.net/the-true-cost-of-Princeton.html [pdfernhout.net]
    "This essay suggests that the cost of just one year of elite college education across the top fifty elite schools costs about the same order of magnitude as what it would cost to educate the poorest billion children on the planet K-12 using networked laptops. And that's just one example of the upcoming transition to a "post-scarcity" society we are in the middle of right now as a planet."

    People can decry specific problems which have fixes, but the bottom line is that we can now
    educate billions of poor kids on the planet for a fraction of the Iraq war and are not yet doing so.

    Another related essay:
        "Post-Scarcity Princeton"
        http://www.pdfernhout.net/reading-between-the-lines.html [pdfernhout.net]
    "And those trends continue to the point where, say, for *only* US$600 billion (plus some more for communications infrastructure in some places) everyone on the planet can have a personal laptop with access to all these services and others, including free-to-the-user voice communications. US$600 billion is about a fifth of the current projected total cost of the Iraq war. And if a family shares one laptop, this might only cost about $200 billion, or about the size to a recent mailing of "rebate" checks to US Americans intended to prevent recession. And the potential benefits of a connected planet to help everyone become prosperous together in a diverse and democratic way is enormous. Even just one breakthrough innovation, like, say, a general cure for cancer, developed by, say, a woman in Africa studying pond water who might otherwise not have received an education, might pay back that $200 billion investment a hundred fold. And, if $200 billion still sounds too expensive right now for a chance at world peace and prosperity, in another ten years, it might only cost US$20 billion ($10/laptop) to give every family such a laptop. And in ten years after that, US$2 billion ($1/laptop, same as some electronic greeting cards now integrating paper, printing, and circuitry). Or, essentially, at that point twenty years from now, the laptops are free, compared to the benefits and other cost savings (like not needing to mail paper as often)."
  • I tagged it fud (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Vexorian (959249) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @10:11PM (#23678009)
    I am not a good fan of OLPC anymore, but really, this is ridiculous. I guess later we'll see a take of children laptops' contribution to global warming.

    giving the kids machines without a corresponding level of parental supervision just resulted in distractions which ultimately damaged academic performance. By contrast, allowing children access to machines in a supervised setting, say an after school program via school labs, might mitigate some of the negative effects
    Bullshit. Of course self-learning has a negative effect in that you cannot indoctrinate children as easy as before, call it "a disruption in academic performance" if you wish, but really, the kids are probably doing things that are more interesting and helpful than the stuff they were doing in school. Not really the laptop's fault, at least not entirely...
  • A greater issue in my mind is this: What if a chip manufacturing country were to add circuitry to key chips for use in the US and elsewhere that could be used either for spying in the US or to self-destruct upon command? Do our computer manufacturers check every circuit of every chip after the initial shipments? Could malware be built- in?
  • Bah, who cares about some poor 3rd world country and its power-hungry little dictator? That would NEVER happen in the oh so enlightened West.

    </sarcasm>

  • This style of "journalism" is an outstanding example of how one can twist just about anything to fit any purpose; and it stinks, to be quite honest. If you think your message to the world is important, try not to make it sound like a crude attempt at deceiving the gullible.

    It is strange that this kind of intellectual fraud and manipulation can not only go on, year after year, but actually seems to be on the increase. It is as if everything has been infected by "advertitis" - all that matters is "making a sa

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. -- Lazarus Long, "Time Enough for Love"

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