When Ethiopians “Hack” Android

My 85-year-old grandfather just signed up for Facebook. He is experiencing a steep learning curve. Today I tried to make a comment more intelligible for him by posting a relevant hyperlink and recommending that he read it.

The question remains: Will he know to click on the hyperlink, or will he just read the strange blue text and be even more confused? I’m guessing he’ll figure it out; he’s smart like that.

But what a strange world we’ve so quickly immersed ourselves in and become accustomed to! Especially our children. I read about a study done by MIT , in which children of totally illiterate Ethiopian communities were given tablet computers, without any instruction. Every week, the researchers return to swap out memory cards so they can see what how the computers are being used. Here’s what happened:

“Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, but 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,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”

Depending on the news source you consult, reports have it that the children are also more advanced in learning to read and write in the first nine months with these tablets than your average American kindergarten student is. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? About our current system?

I’m not arguing against teachers (I am one) or for giving every kid in every classroom a computer, but still! Right now, my thirteen-year-old son is arguing with his brother about the possible values of y given x, and how many tessellations are needed in order to make the software program they are writing run correctly. They’ve had this new computer for two days, and this is what they’re doing with it. These are not homework assignments. These are skills that naturally develop in consequence of their environment–and developing quickly.

What environment is the average American student educated in? What skills are they developing in our schools? Are those skills relevant anymore to the modern world? Or are they products of an outdated system? If you haven’t watched this video, I recommend it. It moves fast, and I don’t agree with everything he says, but it’s worth thinking about:


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