The OLPC has come to Canada. While touting itself as a highly successful and well-embraced initiative, this controversial pilot program is set to distribute up to 5,000 XO (next generation) laptops to children aged six to twelve in Aboriginal communities across Canada. The funding comes from major corporate sponsors (Air Canada, Vale, BMO Financial), the Belinda Stronach Foundation, and the government of Ontario.
The slogan of OLPC programs around the world is “it’s not a laptop project, it’s an education project.” Youth participating in this program will be accessing “culturally relevant” programming with their new netbooks. The program mentions that Aboriginal youth are the “fastest growing population in Canada,” and have been underserviced through traditional education opportunities. OLPC has 30 different programs and 8 of them are customized for Aboriginal youth:
- Owl Vision (Literacy)
- Swift Feet (Physical Fitness)
- Healthy Heart (Food & Nutrition)
- Ekominiville (Financial Literacy)
- The Meeting Place (Mental Health, Substance Use & Well Being)
- Calm Waters (Water Safety)
- Future Generation (Virtual Library)
- Drum Beats (Science of Sound)
The idea is that children will use the laptops and the culturally designed curriculum above to become more connected with the world, each-other, their culture, and traditions. Ultimately, this will allow them to be more engaged learners and brighten the future for everyone.
Many of the schools participating in the pilot phase that is set to begin soon are rural schools and spread throughout Canada (13 schools in 7 provinces). I think the aims of this project are laudable, and some of the books, tutorials, reading links presented in the curriculum are excellent (view here).
I am leery about this pilot because of the history of failure that has marked many 1:1 laptop programs. The Kelowna school district ran into significant problems when it implemented a 1:1 laptop pilot. OLPC Canada will have to address all of the concerns (tech support, finances, training) that have plagued past projects plus meet the challenges of being culturally sensitive…that is a tall order for anyone.