How quickly kids learn …

You may have seen the videos of babies trying to swipe a book like you would an iPad. But what happens when you give a set of tablets to a community of children who’ve had no experience with technology before? A group of literary and technology experts from MIT and Tufts did just that. Picture this …

Two small village towns in Ethiopia, Wonchi and Wolonchete. One you can only reach by foot or pack animal, the other is a two and a half hour walk to the nearest water source. The children had never experiences technology before, nor had they ever attended a school. They hadn’t even seen a pencil and paper. They spoke Oromo, a local village language. The children in these villages were given 40 tablets, loaded with over 300 apps including children’s stories, videos, self-learning tools. Remember how they spoke Oromo? Well to make things extra difficult, the tablets were all in English.

Children in an Ethiopian village use their tablets to learn the basics of reading and writing. (Source: Tufts.edu)

Children in an Ethiopian village use their tablets to learn the basics of reading and writing. (Source: Tufts.edu)

Meet the first hacker … With no instructions or guidance, it only took four minute for one boy to figure out how to turn it on, and within a week, they managed to get all the apps up and running. This boy also became the village’s first hacker. You see, the tablet’s camera was intentionally disabled, but he worked out how to turn it back on.

Engineers from the university would visit twice a month to maintain the equipment and teach the locals how to recharge their tablets using solar power units. Remember, these children never saw a written word in their lives until these tablets landed on their laps. Within a month they were singing the English alphabet song were writing the letters. Within a year they were recognising certain words, and were starting to explore the English language through the multitude of apps they had at their fingertips.

One of the more popular apps was TinkRBook (video), an interactive storybook which aims to build communication between parents and their children. More apps are currently being developed by the group, based on the research done in these communities. They hope to bring the tablets to India, Bangladesh, and Uganda. Even rural communities in America (and perhaps Australia) would benefit from this.

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by Carl J. Sciglitano