One Laptop per Child: Revolutionizing How the World's Children Engage in Learning
Walter Bender, SM '80, Senior Research Scientist, MIT Media Lab
Description: In an informal conversation with an MIT Museum audience, Walter Bender describes the mission and progress of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) venture. The brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte and the MIT Media Lab, this enterprise aims to put low-cost ($100 or less!) laptops into the hands of a billion plus children in the developing world. The mission is not merely to supply inexpensive technology, but to provide a multi-purpose teaching tool, Bender explains, with hardware and software aimed at enabling kids to explore the world and express themselves. MIT is not a Johnny come lately to the area of technology and children. -We've been living and breathing this for 40 years," says Bender. OLPC embraces the beliefs that we all learn and we all teach, and that we're expressive and social, so the laptop is -designed with a low floor and no ceiling," as Bender puts it. For instance, a child can access and play instruments, or record her voice. If inclined, a child can compose and record music sequences. Since the laptop functions as part of a local area network, even in the most remote places (by way of a crank-up power charger), children can even make music together. They -can be both consumers and creators of content," Bender notes. -Real learning happens while they're being expressive." In a map of the world displaying nations that have expressed interest in acquiring MIT's laptops, pretty much every country is in color. In 2006, Libya signed up for 1.2 million laptops, one for every school-age child in the nation, giving OLPC an Arabic-speaking launch country. A Cambridge city councilor asks Bender whether One Laptop per Child can bridge the digital divide in the U.S., where there are a lot of kids with no computers at home. Bender replies that while his laptop -is on a trajectory where it should be useful to any kid anywhere," the immediate issues are supply and need: in the U.S., the average annual expense on education per child is around $7 thousand annually, and in developing countries, it's at most $200-300 per year. -Where am I going to focus in the short term? It's Guatemala, not here."
About the Speaker(s): Before taking his leave of absence from MIT, Walter Bender was executive director of the MIT Media Laboratory, and holder of the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Chair.
At the Media Lab, he was director of the Electronic Publishing group; he also directed the Gray Matters special interest group, which focuses on technology's impact on the aging population. In 1992, Bender founded the News in the Future consortium and has been a member of the Lab's SIMPLICITY, Things That Think, and Digital Life consortia.
Bender joined the Architecture Machine Group at MIT in 1978, after receiving his B.A. from Harvard University in 1977. He received his M.S. at MIT in 1980. A founding member of the Media Laboratory, Bender has engaged in the study of new information technologies, particularly those that affect people directly. He has participated in much of the pioneering research in the field of electronic publishing and personalized interactive multimedia.
Host(s): Office of the Provost, MIT Museum
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