Who cares about one laptop per child (OLPC) when you have the iPhone? This was the question that came to mind as Apple begins to role out v2 of the iPhone at much lower prices.

While I primarily use my iPhone to manage my life… my contacts, my email, my videos, my pictures, where to go, how to get there, what rivers to run and stay away from, etc; I see it as a full blown computer and why not leverage it for education at such a low price point? 8-16GB of storage and it’s processing power and applications are more than enough.

The keyboard ain’t that great, but the screen sure is better than the XO. And the iPhone has all the applications on it to manage one’s life. Sure you require a cellular subscription in order to use it as an actual phone and to make the majority of the apps come alive. But why not make the phone wireless and get WiMax in place in rural or impoverished areas? Then you would have universal information access without the subscription fees. And regardless, how many kids do you know that don’t have a cell phone and an iPod regardless of their current economic status in the US?

Also, rugged… yeah it can be. I have dropped my iPhone far too many times and it is still working. It has no hard drive so it is less fragile than the average computer. And well, the hard plastic cases are pretty cheap.

But does the iPhone have the Logo programming language I ask myself? I am sure if you wanted it to be there, it would be easy enough for a Lisp nerd to get it up and running. And, heck, you already have ruby or python on the iPhone. Just install the terminal app. Ruby and Python are real languages with actual purpose and while logo just makes me feel nostalgic. But logo definitely has it merits when teaching programming to a child. I just wonder how many students today actually use it. And if they do, when does the light bulb goes off to encourage a child to evolve from logo into a real programming language.

The iPhone aside, while many doubt the intentions of the OLPC, I do see a lot of Pros and Cons for OLPC as it is today:

Pros

  • Lowers the barrier to entry to having a computer as a child
  • Introduces all children (potentially impoverished) to Computers
  • Teachers need a menu of tools to pull from to train students with, OLPC can be seen as a powerful tool provided they have the skills to leverage it

Cons

  • Not all teachers have had sufficient professional development to introduce a device like this into the class
  • Now teachers have to manage, chat, internet access, iPods and cell phones in the classroom.
  • The Teacher should still be the boss. The students should be learning structure in much the same way that there will be when they have a career. If the computer has all of the attention, the teacher will have less relevance. This will translate into other social challenges over time.
  • Who is going to maintain the equipment?

I loved the story from Ray Fisman’s article, the $100 distraction. He highlights without proper guidance and educator influence from a child’s guardians, the likelihood of the OLPC being of any value in that child’s education is quite low.

It just seems, if the students are already going to already have an phone, an MP3 player, and well now a computer. Why not consolidate into one device?