Tablets Changing Lives Across the World

by Tom Kloiber on November 9, 2012

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Tablets Changing Lives Across the World

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is an organization that aims to supply laptops or tablets to the hundred millions first-grade-age children across the world who have no access to school. Recently, they tried an experiment in two Ethiopian villages that had never been exposed to learning or printed materials of any kind, including books, road signs, or even packages with printed words.

The organization wanted to see what the kids would do without direction, and the results were nothing short of astounding. When they delivered the boxes, which were taped shut for shipping, the organizers expected interested confusion. Just opening the box would be a new experience for these kids. Maybe they wouldn’t understand that the box was not the present. As it turned out, any confusion didn’t last long. The first box was opened and the tablet was powered up in less than four minutes. In five days, the kids were using an average of 47 apps each, every day. Two weeks later, the village had learned to sing the ABC song. Five months later, they had hacked the Android system to enable the camera function and customize the desktop settings that had been purposely frozen before delivery.

Tablets ruled where laptops went down in flames.

The significance is in the contrast with delivery of laptops in Peru that failed miserably. That outreach was just a disaster. The hardware degraded, the software was not intuitive enough for the teachers to understand, much less the pupils, and buggy, incompatible software built in Peru all contributed to user frustration…which resulted in the laptops being unused after the novelty wore off…and that happened pretty fast. The project was such a failure that some reports thought it would be the end of the organization.

The success of the tablets is encouraging. Our job as SLPs is often to communicate with people much like these children in remote villages, children full of creativity, curiosity, and ingenuity who cannot communicate effectively due to challenges they can’t control. Distances that are not geographical, rather mental or physical.

Like the children in this story, our children can cross those barriers with the aid of tablets to communicate with friends and family, to express their thoughts in an understandably manner, and to expand their learning capacity in a meaningful way. The real beauty of tablets is in the intuitive interface – something anyone can understand, from an autistic child in Boise to an Ethiopian child who has never met a teacher or seen a printed word.

And who knows? Maybe one day we will be called upon to help those children in Ethiopia and other developing countries who have the same problems as our children. The world grows smaller every day. The possibilities are absolutely endless…and more exciting every day.

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