COVID 19 brought to the frontline key factors related to working and studying from home. The new norm will be, most probably, a hybrid in which more work and more studying will be done at home than in the past. Although the trend was already under way, COVID 19 accelerated the effect on these two transformational aspects of future life.
First Truth: Internet evolved from being a privilege of a few, to become a basic citizen’s human right. But not ANY Internet. Gone are the days of internet speeds measured in megabits per second (mbps). Say hello to speeds of gigabits per second (gbps). Why? Because current and future inventions demand instant beaming of information in fields as remote surgeries, autonomous electric vehicles, streaming of educational videos, working HD video conferences in ultra-wide screens. Latency is passe, instant-real time is in.
Fortunately, many cities realized this trend and took steps towards this paradigm shift. Sweden and most Scandinavian countries are already ahead in this field. Many key cities in Asia as well. Medellin, in Colombia, being a case in point in the development world. They are deploying high speed internet to every household similarly to delivering electricity, running water and sewage. No household should expect to pay more than 2% of their household income in order to enjoy this super highway of the future. One without asphalt, tunnels, viaducts, concrete.
Second truth: Ownership of an electronic device in order to receive and send information, a profound challenge, especially in developing nations, became also a basic human right . Why? Because COVID 19 surfaced a monumental social problem: hundreds of millions of children were left completely out during the past 5 months, of the educational system. Lack of Internet, now in the process of being solved, and lack of the device or gadget as you may want to call it, a giant duo of a tragedy in the making of global proportions.
Since the internet module is being solved, we need to concentrate our attention on the second dilemma. The equipment.
A project in which I was involved, tried to solve this problem. One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a non-profit project developed at the Media Lab of MIT tried to give every child on earth a low-cost, rugged, educational device as part of a basic child’s right. The project was not one of a laptop. The laptop was only a vehicle. The true goal was one of social equality. It advocated a democratization of access to knowledge. A child in the Amazon jungle, or in the high remote villages in the Andes or the Himalayas, or in the African savannah, or the desert of the middle east, could /should have the same access to knowledge in quality and in quantity, as the most privileged child of New York, Tokyo or Berlin. Technology in existence made that possible. We delivered more than 3 million laptops in 51countries and 21 languages including languages that were disappearing unless we were able to digitize them, like Quechua, Guarani, Aymara, Zulu, Swahili, etc.
Ideally, that device should have the following characteristics, then thruths;
Third Truth: It should be built for kids. Not one for adults going into an “anorexic” regime to serve kids. Why? Because kids are kids! It has to be rugged and distinguishable as an educational tool for kids so nobody could be tempted to steal them.
Fourth Truth: It should be a low-cost device. At the inception of the program in 2005, a comparable laptop cost over $ 1,100 USD. We aimed at no more than $ 100 USD. Hence the name of the “One hundred Dollar Laptop”. (We never reached that number due to lack of volume because the ferocious attacks of several commercial enterprises that, somehow, perceived the project as an affront to their market share domination).
Fifth Truth; It should consume very little energy. The bottle neck of future developments is energy, not connectivity. If you have 1,000 laptops in a village that uses an old generator and you plug those laptops that consume 35 watts/hour each to the village’s grid, say goodbye to electricity that night. An educational laptop should not consume more than 2-3 watts/hr. It also reflects a respect for the environment.
Sixth Truth: It should be used not only indoors but outdoors as well. Many rural communities do not have a school building. The screen should then be full color, back-lit when indoors, and monochrome, reflective screen (like a Kindle) when outdoors.
Seventh Truth: The kids should own them. It will become their most precious possession. They should be able to take them home where other children, family members, neighbors, could benefit from their use. Thus the importance of internet at home.
Eight Truth: It should have ample educational material so a child can explore, create, build and learn to program (reading and writing code). Keeping their creativity and curiosity alive is the best contribution possible.
Ninth Truth: Governments should make of this project a national, non-partisan priority. If we all agree this to be a basic human right, then politics is out of it.
Tenth Truth: A change of the educational paradigm becomes self- evident, now more due to COVID 19. Children today go to school to learn from a teacher that provides uniform knowledge to all members of the class, regardless of differences in development. Then it goes home to do homework. The new paradigm means that children will go to school to do homework with a tutor-coach-facilitator and go home to learn on their own via Google, Kahn Academy, Wikipedia, Coursera, DuoLingo, etc.
Needless to say, the OneLaptop PerChild laptop, called affectionately the XO, complied with all of these attributes.
Unless we understand these 10 critical aspects of education, we will fail our future generations. These are basic truths, perhaps a blessing in disguise, this pandemic brought to mankind.