Tablets as Teachers

News: World Beat

A group gave tablets to children in Africa.

It is being tried in places where there are no schools or teachers. Scientists are studying the project to see if it's working. The answer appears to be yes.

Wenchi is a small village. It's in Ethiopia. Families live in huts made of sticks and mud. Kids wear worn-out clothes. They sleep beside cows and sheep. They don't go to school. Yet they know the English alphabet. Some can spell words. They are learning by using 20 tablet computers. The tablets arrived in February 2012 from a group called One Laptop Per Child.

Matt Keller runs the project

He says the kids have already learned a lot. He thinks they've probably learned more than they would have in a year of kindergarten.The people of Wenchi wish their village had a teacher. But Keller says the project is made for children who don't go to school. That's 100 million children worldwide

The goal of the project is to get kids to a stage called "deep reading." That's when they can read to learn new information. It's also important that they are learning English. It is a widely used language. Knowing English may help them get higher paying jobs one day

The Miracle of Wenchi: Ethiopian Kids Using Tablets to Teach Themselves

The children

The children are barefoot. Eight-year-old Kelbessa, with his tousled hair and dreamy eyes, is wearing a men's jacket covered with dirt and carrying a brown leather case under his arm that looks like a briefcase. Abebech is 10 and is wearing matchsticks as jewelry in her pierced earlobes. She is carrying her youngest brother in a piece of material slung over her back.The children of Wenchi don't have a school. They also don't have healthy food. Many don't have warm clothes. Maryanne Wolf is an expert on reading and language learning. She helps with the One Laptop project. Wolf says she worries about the kids. She wonders if it would be better to give them food and clothes.

It works

A few months ago, Negroponte himself was sitting in a hut in Wenchi. The children didn't know who he was, and they had only had their computers for 10 weeks. On that day, Kelbessa wrote the word "lion" in the dust in front of his hut for the first time, and Abebech reached the letter W in the alphabet. Negroponte jumped up and was close to tears, says Keller, but he quickly sat down again so as not to disturb the children.

How it helps the children

"Instead," said Negroponte, with great enthusiasm, "they ripped open the packaging and, after only four minutes, found the power button." After five days, he reported, children who had never seen letters before were using 47 apps. They were singing the ABC song after two weeks, and after five months they had circumvented the Android security settings. "Now they can read and write," Negroponte said. "It works."

How the tablets work

The tablets are charged with solar power, using a charging station built by One Laptop. The tablets may be the only way Wenchi children will learn to read. The village has 60 families. They grow potatoes and make honey. None of the adults can read. But they like the laptop project. They feel that their children are lucky