Saturday, October 07, 2017

Has the dream of cheap computers + FOSS for the disadvantaged evaporated?

What Rangan Srikhanta, who formerly distributed OLPCs in Australia is doing now:
  • Not a cheap laptop
  • Not free and open source software
One Education

Their infinity computer sells for $380 + GST. What happened to the dream to make a laptop for kids for $100?

His initial plan was to make a modular computer that kids could put together and to have multiple OS: Linux / Android as well as Windows. But then Microsoft intervened....
"What happened to the modular infinity?"

"... the short story is that Microsoft put us in touch with manufacturers that could make the Infinity:Concept a reality"

"We are currently working to get both Android and Linux supported on the Infinity:One! Our aim is to provide your choice of operating system, and Windows 10 is just the beginning"
- FAQs
Promises, promises ...
"We’re not there yet, but we’re working towards it. The road to Infinity begins with the Infinity:One - join us on our mission to make the world a better place for children through technology."
- Concept page
Contrast what has happened with this 2015 interview of Rangan:
This week, the Australian 15-employee One Education will announce its new generation low-cost computer. A Lego-like modular PC-and-tablet in one that can be assembled by a four-year-old, updated as components reach their end of life, and repaired in the last their primary years

Its main components - screen, battery, keyboard, CPU, camera, Wi-Fi connection - are separate parts of the puzzle, with the main bits concealed under a soft silicon cover. A trade scheme will allow schools to swap parts as the technology evolves and students' needs change.

The XO-Infinity is only a prototype thus far.The first working model is due in August, the first shipment early next year.
- Meet Rangan Srikhanta, the former refugee who wants to change the world one laptop at a time
Update (Oct 9, 2017)
Received this mail from Tony Forster:
I see the Infinity one in a similar light as OLPC's XO Android tablet as a bid to 'stay in the game' while cheap tablets and phones undercut the OLPC business model.

The smartphone is the hardware that now best fits the OLPC concept:
"provide educational opportunities for the world's most isolated and poorest children by giving each child a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop"
I think that Sugar's bid to control the OS or Desktop failed and the best thing to do is work with the user's choice of OS, be it Linux, Android or Windows and provide good free open source educational software to run on these platforms.

Specifically I would like to see a drag and drop programming app for Android that is optimised for a small touch screen.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

a critique of Tyson Yunkaporta's cultural critique of western education

I've written a critique of Tyson Yunkaporta's cultural critique of western education, here. 6425 words.

Different authors have different opinions about what culture is, cultural change and how important culture is. I dismiss strong cultural relativism but argue there are deep reasons why culture is important.
Culture is the brain wiring that occurs in the first 5-7 years of a child's life. We forget how we learned that stuff, it just becomes part of us, part of our identity, more or less impossible to change. So, for example, a rural Aboriginal child will almost certainly grow up believing in the spirit world, whereas an urban white middle class child might well grow up being an atheist or agnostic. That early “brainwashing” can't be avoided in our current society and it's not going to go away any time soon.
Should indigenous culture be integrated into the school curriculum?

Tyson Yunkaporta's 8 indigenous ways are outlined:
  1. Holism: the Aboriginal learner concentrates on the overall picture before going into detail
  2. Visual: a concrete, holistic image serves as an anchor for the learner
  3. Community: for Aboriginal people the motivation for learning is inclusion in the community
  4. Symbols and Images: since learning styles are problematic reframe visual-spatial learning as symbolic learning, using both concrete and abstract imagery (it's not clear to me from Tyson's descriptions what this alleged reframing of problematic learning styles actually means – see later for a critique of learning styles)
  5. Non verbal: Kinesthenic, hands on, silence, imitation
  6. Land links: Aboriginal people have a deep connection to place
  7. Story sharing: Elders teach using stories, the lesson is contained in the narrative
  8. Non linear: the linear perspective of direct questioning, direct instruction is categorised as “western pedagogy”; contrast this with Aboriginal pedagogy where multiple processes occur continuously. But note that in the next paragraph Tyson says there are “excellent western non-linear frameworks available like De Bono's Lateral Thinking ” (p. 13)
Tyson does argue a common ground position, that in selecting the 8 Aboriginal pedagogies he has kept an eye out for “common ground” between Aboriginal and western ways

He sees positive synergies arising from interaction between cultures and rejects those who make negative comments about indigenous learners and their cultures.

My case against

I'll just list the headings of my points in response:
  1. Tyson's 8 processes of Aboriginal learning and reality.
  2. Traditional culture is a warrior culture
  3. There are negative (welfare dependency) as well as positive (open culture) indigenous cultures
  4. The complexity of the cultural interface defies attempts to simplify it. One effect of simplification is to promote a pressure to conform to a cultural stereotype
  5. There doesn't appear to be good evidence that different learning styles make a difference
  6. The cultural solution feeds into the ongoing Political Blame game
  7. The cultural solution is silent on what I believe ought to be the fundamental goals of the education system, the non universals
  8. Philosophy of harmony or philosophy of struggle?
I conclude with some historical context and my current position on the role of culture in the curriculum.