Africans learn English with high-tech tablets
The key to their success: 20 tablet computers dropped off in their Ethiopian village in February by a U.S. group called One Laptop Per Child.
The goal is to find out whether kids using today's new technology can teach themselves to read in places where no schools or teachers exist. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers analyzing the project data say they're already startled.
"What I think has already happened is that the kids have already learned more than they would have in one year of kindergarten," said Matt Keller, who runs the Ethiopia program.
The fastest learner — and the first to turn on one of the Motorola Xoom tablets when they arrived — is 8-year-old Kelbesa Negusse. The device's camera was disabled to save memory, yet within weeks Kelbesa had figured out its workings and made the camera work.
He proclaimed himself a lion, a marker of accomplishment in Ethiopia.
The apps encouraged them to click on colors — green, red, yellow. "Awesome," one app said aloud. Kelbesa rearranged the letters HSROE into one of the many English animal names he knows. Then he spelled words on his own, tracing the English letters into his tablet in a thick red line.
"He just spelled the word 'bird'!" exclaimed Keller. "Seven months ago he didn't know any English. That's unbelievable. That's a quantum leap forward."
"I think if you gave them food and water they would never leave the computer room," said Teka Kumula, who charges the tablets off a solar station built by One Laptop. "They would spend day and night here."
Kelbesa, the self-declared child lion, said: "I prefer the computer over my friends because I learn things with the computer." Asked what English words he knows, he rattled off a barnyard: "Dog, donkey, horse, sheep, cow, pig, cat."
Keller said that Nicholas Negroponte, the MIT pioneer in computer science who founded One Laptop, is designing a program for the 100 million children worldwide who don't get to attend school. Wolf said Negroponte wants to tap into children's "very extraordinary capacity to teach themselves," though she said she has no desire to see teachers replaced.
The goal of the project is to get kids to a stage called "deep reading," where they can read to learn. It won't be in Amharic, Ethiopia's first language, but English, which is widely seen as the ticket to higher paying jobs.
Critical thinking challenge: Why does learning English lead to higher paying jobs?
- Posted on December 18, 2012