Why Teachers Must Close Textbooks and Open Laptops

Question: How do you respond to critics who say, “Students should read books, not play with computers?”

Nicholas Negroponte: Well, that's a silly remark because the difference between a book and the computer is basically zero in the sense that physical books are going to disappear, they're going to become screens within a very short period of time because of all sorts of reasons, the economics of it, the environmental impact of it, and just the sheer access. When we ship our laptop, we ship 1.6 million books with it. You can access free, 1.6 million books and embedded in the laptop are 100 books per laptop of the choosing of the country, but what's important about that is, when you ship 100 laptops into a village, there are 100 different books on each of the laptops, so the village now has 10,000 books in the village and 1.6 million accessible. That's -- that is really, really different.

So, to compare books to computers, I mean, computers are the way to get books. That is the medium for distributing text because it doesn't require paper, it doesn't -- you know, it's editable. Nothing goes out of date, nothing goes out of print, it can be refreshed and updated.

Usually when somebody makes a remark like that, what they're doing is they are observing that kids in a classroom are playing with their laptops because what is actually going on is pretty boring and if you have an environment where somebody is not engaging the kids, not using the laptops as part of the ethos, if you will, of the particular lessons and material going on, this is certainly going to happen. It's a little bit like people using cell phones in the middle of class because they're bored and they're sending messages to each other. That's not because the cell phone is innately bad, it's because the class is boring. And we don't find this situation when we go out into villages, but what we will find because the kids take the laptops home, is of course they're going to use them for games and for music and for movies, and they should. And that's very important. In fact, we require the country to allow the kids to take it home because otherwise, it's not a seamless part of their life, it's part of just this thing called school and something that is just not part of their normal life.

And you have to also keep in mind that most children in the world go to schools that is two shifts, there's a morning shift and an afternoon shift. If you look at two-shift schools, and you count the number of hours that a child spends in class, it's a number like 12 to 14 per week. Now, if you make the classroom experience absolutely perfect, it's still only 14 hours per week; there are a lot of other hours. So, we really look at the whole day of the child and want to influence that whole period. So, that's a very, very big difference again.

The physical book will disappear, says Nicholas Negroponte. Teachers who resist dispensing with them because "laptops are distracting" must change their methods.

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