One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Australia is set to launch a new initiative centred on the Linux-based XO laptops the nonprofit organisation distributes.
The organisation, which formed in 2006, has a focus on distributing the XO laptops, which are produced by the global OLPC organisation, to low socio-economic status (SES) primary schools in Australia. The US-based One Laptop Per Child project launched in January 2005. The OLPC XO-1.75 laptop is based on an ARM processor and runs 'Sugar' — an easy-to-use operating system based on the Linux kernel and designed to be kid-friendly
OLPC Australia CEO, Rangan Srikhanta, says that the organisation is pioneering a new initiative to build an educational ecosystem around the laptops. The program, One Education, is due to launch on 1 May and involves two student certifications that indicate a child is either qualified to use an XO laptop and offer support to other users — XO Champion — or qualified to offer support, fault diagnosis and repair — XO Mechanic.
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The XO Champion certificate covers safety, storage, software use (including using the applications bundled with the laptops and connecting to networks), basic troubleshooting and school attendance — "it's basically understanding the XO and being good peer supporter," Srikhanta says.
The XO Mechanic certificate indicates that a student can change batteries, run hardware tests, reinstall the laptop's operating system, and replace a keyboard, screen, touchpad, wireless card and motherboard.
"We've taken all the lessons we've learned all the programs we've run and we've wrapped it into a story people can engage with," Srikhanta says. The One Education launch will be accompanied by a picture book — The Little Green Machine — which sets out the organisations vision of an XO-facilitated ecosystem of educators, other adults, and children.
Unlike the early days of the organisation, OLPC laptops distributed by the nonprofit are now bundled with mandatory teacher training, which is conducted online. Laptops are shipped to schools on a classroom by classroom basis. "So if one teacher completes the training we ship to their class," Srikhanta says. "That gets another teacher to complete the training then we ship to her class."
OLPC Australia charges $400 per XO and the One Education program, with disadvantaged schools able to access donor-supported discounts of $300 per laptop. Bundling training and charging for the distribution of the laptops has enabled OLPC Australia to scale rapidly and ensures that there is genuine buy-in from schools, instead of the XOs just gathering dust, according to Srikhanta.
For teachers the organisation is offering 15 hours of online training, which qualifies an educator for XO Certification. Further training is available for 'XO Expert' certification, which qualifies a teacher to train others to become XO Certified.
Srikhanta says that the training programs targeting children is a way of creating local sustainability, through building a knowledge base, as well as a way of integrating the XOs in the educational process. "The XO features so highly in the kids' psyche and they want to come play with the green machines [and] the teachers see this as a great segue to getting them to come to class more, engaging more being, a very productive member of the classroom. So all of a sudden we've embedded it deeply into the school's psyche so if a principal changes or a teacher changes [the programs can continue]."
"There's this richness that exists in parallel to the XO," Srikhanta says. "The XO is a very important component to this, but what we've tried to hit home is it's not the only component. Could we swap it out for an ASUS EEE PC or something else? The answer is no. The moment you pick up the XO you know it's for kids and it's been designed to be repaired by kids, which I think is such a crucial element.
"For some corporations, support is the most lucrative part of any contract. What we see from OLPC's perspective is it's probably the most crucial component in terms of social empowerment and enablement. It's the best opportunity we have for kids to actually be learning something out of this program. The beauty of it is if we don't even open the XO if we take the battery out already we can have a whole term of lessons about taking the XO apart."
"With the XO Mechanic program the kids are actually enticed to actually repair the machines," Srikhanta says.
"When we ship we ship 25 XOs or the number [a classroom needs, OLPC includes] spare keyboards spare screens spare batteries and then a screwdriver set. So the kids can then complete the XO Mechanic program. This is for the whiz kids and the future engineers of the world."