Fairly incredible

I saw this on Dvice yesterday and had to share it.

Ethiopian kids hack OLPCs in 5 months with zero instruction

What happens if you give a thousand Motorola Zoom tablet PCs to Ethiopian kids who have never even seen a printed word? Within five months, they’ll start teaching themselves English while circumventing the security on your OS to customize settings and activate disabled hardware. Whoa.

Basically, rather than handing the tablets out, which is their usual m.o., they literally put the boxes containing one tablet per child in the village and then they left. No instructions, no lessons on what they were or what to do with them, nothing.

We left the boxes in the village. Closed. Taped shut. No instruction, no human being. I thought, the kids will play with the boxes! Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, but found the on/off switch. He’d never seen an on/off switch. He powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village.

Poison Arrow, or The Look of Love? Either way, great taste.

And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android.

Something is nagging me about the ethics of all this, but apparently, we’re told to gloss over that and appreciate the seemingly huge advances that this could mean for education and the spread of literacy in previously illiterate communities.

And it goes beyond the kids, too, since previous OLPC studies have shown that kids will use their computers to teach their parents to read and write as well, which is incredibly amazing and awesome.

All in all, it’s a fairly incredible story. I wish all my experiments went this well.

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