Could Wales be a world leader in computing for childrens’ learning?

Ok, so it’s not a new idea – one laptop per child, but in Wales it started to have political legs in February this year when Plaid Cymru announced it as policy. It hasn’t quite made it to the One Wales compact now they are in government, but perhaps it should, but with a twist. 

I suggest that the Wales Assembly Government really think through this idea and connect together several important strategic goals: 

  • Wales wants to be a knowledge economy, creating wealth through ideas 
  • as a small country Wales can afford to be innovative in its policies, reaching out to parts where larger (eg the UK) governments fear to tread 
  • it could provide world leadership in the development of learning by children using ICT, developing skills amongst its teachers, software industries etc 
  • by supporting a world-wide programme to aid some of the most disadvantaged children it could be seen as a leading force for economic development in the third world 
  • it could actively support the EU policies designed to thwart the intellectual and technological stranglehold that Microsoft uses – often illegally – to cripple innovation and the development of ‘open software (see  debate in UKParliament last week, and groan…).

All these things in one go? How?
Well, the famous One Laptop Per Child programme is designed to create a really low cost computer that can be used in the developing world. But this isn’t some crippled, hand-me down, second grade, or worse second hand, “not good enough for us, but ok for them” bit of opportunist commercialism.
 No, it’s one of the most exciting pieces of technology around. It’s the iPod of computers for children, no less. Go see here.
One important aspect of the programme is that all the software being developed is open source, so anyone can help improve it. Much of those improvements could lead in other applications to commercial exploitation.
It’s designed, bottom up to be multi-lingual: well, that ticks the Welsh cultural box. And all the learning materials are being designed from scratch with the expectation that the work in one school will rub off on all the rest.
The founder’s original concept was that this idea should only be for the developing world. But it’s been a struggle – surprise, surprise – to get the volume of orders – it needs millions –  to get it going. So next month Americans are being offered the chance to buy one of these extra-ordinary devices at a cost that will enable OLPC to make a free one for use elsewhere: at a price that’s still less than anything you can buy with Mr Microsoft’s stuff on it. It is called G1G1.
So: decide on OLPC for every child and young learner in Wales; create a learning infrastructure where our teachers, technicians, IT staff and developers are all part of a giant development hub; integrate learning with children overseas, share the experience of innovation with others, and benefit from theirs too. And, at one stroke, put Wales on the world map as a prime supporter of OLPC, not just in Wales, but worldwide.
The economic and learning paybacks could be immense.
The value in our children being part of a worldwide transformation of other childrens’ learning would be without price.
In the past Wales sent its teachers around the world (I had two Mr Davies’ in my London secondary school). They gave the country an enviable reputation for the quality of its teaching. Let’s do the same with OLPC.

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