Ethiopian Children Learn From Diamond Age Primers
Ethiopian children have been provided with tablet computers running software reminiscent of the primers from Neal Stephenson's 1995 novel The Diamond Age.
(Ethiopian first grader with tablet)
The devices involved are Motorola Xoom tablets—used together with a solar charging system, which Ethiopian technicians had taught adults in the village to use. Once a week, a technician visits the villages and swaps out memory cards so that researchers can study how the machines were actually used.
After several months, the kids in both villages were still heavily engaged in using and recharging the machines, and had been observed reciting the “alphabet song,” and even spelling words. One boy, exposed to literacy games with animal pictures, opened up a paint program and wrote the word “Lion.”
The experiment is being done in two isolated rural villages with about 20 first-grade-aged children each, about 50 miles from Addis Ababa. One village is called Wonchi, on the rim of a volcanic crater at 11,000 feet; the other is called Wolonchete, in the Great Rift Valley. Children there had never previously seen printed materials, road signs, or even packaging that had words on them.
The computers make use of the "Nell System", which has some interesting science fiction roots:
The interaction design of the Nell system described above
is inspired by the “Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” in the
Neal Stephenson novel The Diamond Age, from whose protagonist Nell takes its name.
Nell’s design embodies four
key ideas: it is a Narrative interface using Direct Interaction which Grows with, and is Personalized for, the
child. Nell uses these four key concepts to build a novel
learning platform which addresses several challenges we’ve
encountered in earlier work.
(From Growing Up With Nell: A Narrative Interface for Literacy)
The apps running on the tablet were inspired by the software running on the primer, a runcible computer, a book-shaped computer that has paper-thin LCD displays for pages:
Nell's first experience with the Primer
The book spoke in a lovely contralto, with an accent like the very finest Vickys. The voice was like a real person's - though not like anyone Nell had ever met. It rose and fell like slow surf on a warm beach and when Nell closed her eyes, it swept her out into an ocean of feelings.
Once upon a time there was a little Princess named Nell who was imprisoned in a tall dark castle on an island in the middle of a great sea... from time to time a raven would come to visit...
"What's a raven?" Nell said.
... it turned out to be a bird. Big letters appeared beneath. "R A V E N," the book said. "Raven. Now, say it with me."
"Very good! Nell, you are a clever girl, and you have much talent with words. Can you spell raven?"
...After a few seconds, the first of the letters began to blink. Nell prodded it.
The letter grew until it had pushed all the other letters and pictures off the edges of the page...
(Read more from Stephenson's Diamond Age primer)
(Compare this fictional narrative with this description of an Ethiopian girl interacting with Nell.)
However, this idea has additional science-fictional antecedents. In his 1992 novel A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge describes a specialized portable computer called a dataset that runs educational software in "kindermode":
The sounds and vids kept the monsters amused for several minutes. Eventually their random fiddlings convinced the dataset that somebody really young had opened up the box, and it shifted into kindermode. ...
"My name is--" Johanna heard a short burst of gobble with an overtone that seemed to buzz right through her head. "What is your name?" Johanna knew it was all part of the language script. There was no way the creature could understand the individual words it was saying. That "my name, your name" pair was repeated over and over again between the children in the language program.
(Read more about Vinge's dataset (Pink Oliphaunt))
You can take a look at the apps Nell's Balloons and Nell's Colors, which require modern browsers like Chrome or Firefox to run.
From Technology Review (Tablets), Technology Review (EmTech Preview) and Dr. C. Scott Ananian page. Thanks to Winchell Chung (aka @Nyrath) of Project Rho and Vik of Diamond Age Solutions (RepRap and 3D Printer Consumables ) for their contributions to this story.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/1/2012)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 1 )
Related News Stories -
Life In Detroit's 'Agrihood' - The First In The U.S.
'countless tiny brown circles in the green fields ...occasional ruins of ancient cities...' - Philip K. Dick, 1954.
3RDiTEK Lifeblogging Headband Camera
'It's logging anyway - everything you see on duty goes into the black box.' - Charles Stross, 2007.
Robot Lawyers And Robot Judges Now Everywhere
'The law clerk arrived, a smallish robot with a battered stainless steel hide and dull coppery features.' - Frederik Pohl, 1954.
Roam-e Flying Selfie Drone Cam
'Tight mid-shot and pull out on but behind me...' -Karen Traviss, 2004.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
Life In Detroit's 'Agrihood' - The First In The U.S.
'countless tiny brown circles in the green fields ...occasional ruins of ancient cities...'
Artificial 'Hairs' To Enhance Senses Of Robots
'Migul had extended from each of the fingertips an inch-long filament of wire...'
The Point Of View Of An Autonomous Car
'It is safe to say that the new model almost revolutionized America in more ways than one...'
You Can't Lose The Travelmate Autonomous Suitcase - It Follows You
'...follow him as faithfully as a well-trained hound.'
ibotn Toddler-Care Mini-Robot
'She's not like a machine. She's like a person. A living person.'
Nuclear Batteries Based On Diamonds Last Millennia
'they just package it and ship it around to wherever people want it...'
Eighth Sense Emotion-Responsive Cloak
'This sensitivity to mood explains the real popularity of bio-fabrics...'
British Airways To Offer An Ingestible Sensor To Passengers
The modern way to get feedback from passengers.
Unique DNA To Foil Parts Counterfeiters
'... the only molecule, a unique protein amino acid, which could not be duplicated.'
MIT Researchers Predict The Future From Still Photos
'What I have in this camera is not a record of what you did just now but what will go on here in the next half hour...'
Mini Robot Uses 2 mm Surgical Tools
'... surgical tool - blades, tweezers, probes - so fine you could just see them with the naked eye.'
Childhood Dreams Of Space Realized! Space Junk Problem Solved!
'Give the noble daydreams a rest, you preachy rookie. Astronauts are wage slaves like everyone else!'
Writhing Robotic Tentacle Uses Laser To Chop Nuke Hardware
'... long, flexible, glittering tentacles... swinging and rattling about its strange body.'
LBNP Device Not Quite 'Artificial Gravity'
'Joe got out the gravity-simulator harnesses..'
China's XPNAV 1 To Use X-Ray Pulsars For Navigation
'For a hyperspace jump, you need at least four beacons for an accurate fix.'
Artificial Muscle Material Is Self-Healing, Super Stretchy
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories