#SWEDOW on Steroids

The One Laptop Per Child organization is trying something new in two remote Ethiopian villages — simply dropping off tablet computers with pre-loaded programs and seeing what happens.

The goal: to see if illiterate kids with no previous exposure to written words can learn how to read all by themselves, by experimenting with the tablet and its preloaded alphabet-training games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings, and other programs.

Early observations are encouraging, said Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC’s founder, at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference last week.

The devices involved are Motorola Xoom tablets — used together with a solar charging system, which OLPC workers had taught adults in the village to use. Once a week, an OLPC worker visits the villages and swaps out memory cards so that researchers can study how the machines were actually used.

From a Mashable article published at the end of last month and titled “Given Tablets But No Teachers, Ethiopian Kids Teach Themselves,” no less.

Allow me to be skeptical about this wanton distribution of SWEDOW. The acronym stands for “stuff we don’t want:” the used t-shirts, shoes, glasses, and other things we don’t want, which we send to developing countries because hey, at least we have good intentions and doing something is better than doing nothing, right?

Right?

Allow me to be skeptical about the effects of the “experiment,” which is being evaluated by an OLPC employee. That’s about as incentive compatible as if I were to put my students in charge of assigning their own grades.

UPDATE: Tobias Denskus gives his less snarky, considerably more learned cultural-anthropology take on the whole thing here.

UPDATE 2: Tate Watkins has a new post about how #SWEDOW soccer balls can (wait for it…) save lives.

HT: Marcella McClatchey for the picture.

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