About a year ago, closed boxes filled with computer tablets were left in two villages in Ethiopia.
The villages had no literacy and no cellular service or electricity. One adult in each village was taught how to configure a solar panel.
It took the 45 children, between five and 11 years of age, two and a half minutes before a child found the on and off switch, Nicholas Negroponte recalled at the Whaling Church Friday evening. Five days later, the children were using an average of 50 applications per day on the tablets, and five days after that, they were singing alphabet songs.
Mr. Negroponte, the co-founder and former director of the MIT Media Lab, said this was a victory for One Laptop per Child, his initiative to provide education and literacy to children without access to school — and to provide a new approach to learning itself.
During a wide-ranging discussion with WBUR’s Tom Ashbrook, the host of On Point, Mr. Negroponte argued that the tablets in Ethiopia represent a new way to look at education. New media might topple old ways of thinking.
Armed with just the tablets, he pointed out, the children in Ethiopia were so successful that six months after the tablets arrived, and with no formal instruction, they hacked Android to enable a deactivated camera on the device.
One Laptop per Child (which now includes tablets as part of its mission) has distributed three million laptops to children in 40 countries. The goal of the nonprofit, Mr. Negroponte said, is bringing education to places like Ethiopia and Afghanistan where it has been inaccessible.