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Sub Notebooks and their Operating System

I read an interesting post recently about the Open Source Operating System on the XO notebook that OLPC hits AfricaNegoroponte wants to put in the hands of the world’s disadvantaged children via the one laptop per child project. This software is called sugar and is apparently now finding favour with more than just the XO laptops. The easy way to run sugar, for those of us who don’t have a Linux system, is to download this

I love the way that the project is now being referred to as IAEP.  IAEP means “its an education project” – which is the name of one of the ‘sugar’ mailing lists, and a reminder that its not a laptop project, per se!

It is this aspect that really makes me think. Here we are in the west with access to technology everywhere and we can’t agree that 1:1, labs of computers, EWBs or anything else is a good idea. What on earth will happen in schools in developing countries? For lessons learned, we can read of some experiences already such as the report from Ethiopia described at

I would suggest that for starters, we all read what is being suggested on One Laptop Per Child rather than look to apparently “benevolent” agencies like Microsoft. A lot of talk of how governments have rejected the XO laptop in favor of machines that are capable of running windows scares me a bit I must say.

Reading statements like “The ICT skills course will be based on the Microsoft Digital Literacy Curriculum” in news reports about the rollout of sub notebooks almost brings a tear to my eye.

Microsoft’s program is clueless and grotesque in its failure to address the needs of the poor. Compare this 10-15 hour program

Computer Basics (Windows only)
The Internet and the World Wide Web (Internet Explorer only)
Productivity Programs (Microsoft Office only)
Computer Security and Privacy (Microsoft security is a very bad joke.)
Digital Lifestyles (Stuff that the poor can’t afford)

with the One Laptop Per Child set of open-ended activities for collaborative discovery, designed so that children hardly need manuals, and with the OLPC Bitfrost security system.

Still and video camera and microphone with Record software
Music: player, editor, digital synthesizer
Pippy Python programming for children
Etoys Smalltalk programming for children
Turtle Art as in the Logo language for children
Measure digital oscilloscope with time and frequency domains

and lots more on the way. Most of this software is also available in Ubuntu Linux, but without the mesh networking, ruggedness, extreme low power, ecological design, and other important features of the OLPC XO.

I really don’t want to sound like I am anti establishment here but I think we have to look very closely at how these big powerful players manipulate us.

For example, some of the best, most creative teachers I know who use ICT powerfully with kids in classrooms are neither Apple Distinguished Educators or Microsoft Innovative Teachers. They are just really good teachers! I wonder if the OLPC people need to bring out a title like this so we can label great innovative teachers who don’t use Leopard or Vista!

Here is another way in which it is easy to loose the wood for the trees:

A project called “Realising girl child Potential through ICT: An empowerment programme for women teachers”
The Concept:
Microsoft through the Partners in Learning Program has partnered Ministry of Education – Kenya, and African Centre for Women in ICT (ACWICT) and other stakeholders to transform education through the use of ICT in
Education, specifically to build the capacity of women teachers in ICT while at the same time addressing the Girl Child issues.

That would include

* Women’s health
* “Female circumcision”/Female genital mutilation/clitoridectomy
* Women’s rights: marriage and divorce, property, access to education,
dress, rape, violence, and much more
* Women in traditional societies

All to be apparently addressed via Partners in Learning (PiL) “Transforming Education”

Microsoft Partners in Learning initiative supports the dual commitment by Microsoft to advance the quality of education and provide alternative channels for economic progress. By building partnerships with
governments and schools around the globe, Partners in Learning works to integrate technology into daily teaching, learning, and research.

The Web site describes a marketing program for Microsoft software, not an education program.

“Key programs areas that help educators employ technology throughout the learning process, and enable students to achieve their learning goals:”

“Employ technology”=”Buy Microsoft software”

At no point in the description of the program is there any mention of asking children what their learning goals are, much less how to achieve them.

Innovative Schools
“Delivers expert guidance in holistic school reform,”

Never defined, and obviously not actually meant.

“plus a roadmap for technology integration to help schools meet their education objectives.”

More Microsoft marketing.

Innovative Teachers
“Connects a global community of educators focused on 21st century learning and recognizes their exemplary efforts to prepare students for the future.”

From Terms and Conditions of the PiL Initiative:


Unless otherwise specified, the Services are for your personal and
non-commercial use. You may not modify, copy, distribute, transmit,
display, perform, reproduce, publish, license, create derivative works
from, transfer, or sell any information, software, products or
services obtained from the Services.


Any software that is made available to download from the Services
(“Software”) is the copyrighted work of Microsoft and/or its


Permission to use Documents (such as white papers, press releases,
datasheets and FAQs) from the Services is granted, provided that (1)
the below copyright notice appears in all copies and that both the
copyright notice and this permission notice appear, (2) use of such
Documents from the Services is for informational and non-commercial or
personal use only and will not be copied or posted on any network
computer or broadcast in any media, and (3) no modifications of any
Documents are made. Accredited educational institutions, such as K-12,
universities, private/public colleges, and state community colleges,
may download and reproduce the Documents for distribution in the


Microsoft does not claim ownership of the materials you provide to
Microsoft (including feedback and suggestions) or post, upload, input
or submit to any Services or its associated services for review by the
general public, or by the members of any public or private community,
(each a “Submission” and collectively “Submissions”). However, by
posting, uploading, inputting, providing or submitting (“Posting”)
your Submission you are granting Microsoft, its affiliated companies
and necessary sublicensees permission to use your Submission in
connection with the operation of their Internet businesses (including,
without limitation, all Microsoft Services), including, without
limitation, the license rights to: copy, distribute, transmit,
publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, translate and
reformat your Submission; to publish your name in connection with your
Submission; and the right to sublicense such rights to any supplier of
the Services.


So you can’t actually do much with what you learn here. You can’t copy software for students, or distribute anything to other teachers. You can’t post Free/Open Source Software, because these terms violate Free
Software licenses. You can distribute downloaded documents to students, but you can’t post them anywhere else. Microsoft claims copyright and extensive licensing rights to anything posted here, including the right to prevent distribution.

Innovative Students
“Works with students to increase their capacity and interest to use technology as a learning tool.”

No, in much the same manner as above. Increases their capacity to use Microsoft software and nothing else.

“Policy & Access Works with policy makers, education leaders to formulate, review relevant and appropriate policies and strategies that support ICT in Education. Also create and raise awareness and facilitate capacity
building for leaders to appreciate ICT  in education”

Actually, to prevent consideration of more effective policies and strategies that use Free/Open Source Software and cut into Microsoft’s market share.

Summary of Action
“As part of its commitment to transforming education using technology, Microsoft through its Partner in Learning global program will roll out a 5-year programme that will improve the professional practice of women teachers in Kenya. The programme targets women teachers in public primary and secondary schools in Kenya. It will equip the teachers with the requisite ICT skills that they will integrate in their subject teaching to improve learning outcomes among learners in their classrooms while at the same time addressing issues around “the Girl Child”.

It will totally fail to teach these women how to teach using technology, other than to parrot what they have just been fed.

“The skills will also enable the women teachers to access knowledge and information on girl child Potential and utilise these to empower the girl child to realise her human Potential. Technology is therefore going to
be an enabler in this 2-tier transformation model targeting the woman teacher and the girl child.”

Any book on Web search techniques will better serve the teachers and their students.

Enough!I am sure that you get the point.

It is all well and good that we push the sub notebook manufacturers to bring out devices that support popular Operating Systems but if the OLPC project becomes, in the eyes of many developing countries, the distribution of sub-standard machines to those who have no choice other than to accept them, then maybe we need to really think hard about what we are doing when we insist on the device supporting the latest, most bloated OS.

I guess it all comes back to what you really want to see from kids using mobile devices to learn with.

And what a can of worms that one is!

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