The Paperless School?

Oct 08, 2008

Miles Berry

Interesting item on the World Service news this morning about the Don Milani di Rivoli elementary school in Turin that’s just started experimenting with a paperless curriculum for third and fifth grade pupils, with all their textbook contents delivered online, and I believe their work completed that way too. The site describes this as ‘a unique experiment’, and my hazy recollection of the 5 am news had this as a ‘world’s first’. I’d be very interested to know of any previous examples of such a radical adoption of e-learning, especially with primary aged children.

This is a brave, and potentially important, experiment and it will be interesting to see how things work our for them.

That said, I can’t help feeling that they’re missing something. The selling point in the story is about the cost savings – £228 for the laptop vs £400 for books (no, I couldn’t believe that figure for spending on books either). I think the computer must be this one, another UMPC, running Windows, perhaps surprisingly. I’m not entirely convinced that the interface is as well thought out as the XO-1. If it is the JumPC, the software looks fairly limited in terms of what one could do on the machine itself, certainly more so than sugar or edubuntu, but then again, who needs software when there’s the web. The BBC says “their access to the Internet will be controlled by special software”; Olidata’s JumPC site has “children … will only be able to use their JumPC to surf those websites you, as parents, have chosen and approved as being suitable and interesting for them’ – sounds thrilling, doesn’t it? I fear the bundled content will also be of the ‘approved as being suitable and interesting” variety.

There is, I think, so much that could be gained for ‘the learning process’ by ditching textbooks and providing computers, but not if all this means is e-textbooks, even jolly good interactive ones like the MEP scheme we use ourselves.. The biggest benefits of the technology will come through connecting learners together, so that they can continue to learn from and with one another even when not together in class, and learn from and with other people too, in facilitating independent, autonomous learning, which might require a more open approach to internet access, and through empowering the children as creators rather than consumers of content.

Kudos to the team at Don Milani di Rivoli for trying this, and here’s hoping that they really do make the most of all the opportunities that the year will bring them.