It’s Children’s day today. And in my country, Nigeria, today is the day we shall see a display of the true Nigerian child. After days, and weeks, of hard work and rehearsals, these children shall be donning the colours of the Nigerian child and engage in lots of activities, usually a joy to watch. When I was little (I still am, I guess), there used to be a state-wide (and also nation-wide) march past at the Stadium, where children of different schools show off hours of rigorous training and exercise by performing near-military grade march and stunts (I never made it to any of those events though; maybe I was too “lanky”).
But between those times and now, a lot has happened, and unfortunately, much is not too positive. The Arabs are fighting, the Shiites are fighting, Syria is (still) fighting, even the seemingly secure US of A is getting bombed, and religion has become more important than humanity. Did I almost forget that the infamous Boko Haram is troubling Nigeria too? No I didn’t. I wonder how children in these troubled areas of Africa, Asia and the Middle East will celebrate today. On the local front, many schools and state governments have indefinitely postponed all forms of public march, and I wonder what fun there still is to Children’s day.
But leaving the depressing part aside, there’s a lot to hope for in this generation. There are now really cool gadgets, some good enough to rival Spy Kids and Double-O-Seven. But most of these gadgets are still only accessible to those in the developed and the high class of the developing nations. What happens to children in remote cities in India, Paraguay, Nepali, Nigeria, and the likes? Many have never set eyes on a laptop in their lives, and those that have, cannot afford to get one.
This is why I love the initiative of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a not-for-profit organisation that aims to “create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.” I love children, and I would want them to enjoy the same benefits adults enjoy, including exposure to information technology. Everyone (figuratively) now has at least one gadget or the other, but we leave the poor children out, maybe because we believe they should be stuck with just paperbacks, or maybe because we cannot afford such luxury for them.
But I propose a (probably already existing) solution
Buy a gadget for a child today
Gadgetry has now become very cheap. So cheap you can now get a laptop for less than $100, and that’s no more than 15k in Naira, too little to buy a fairly used blackberry smartphone or a nokia lumia. Won’t it be preferable if you invest this money in one laptop for a child and probably be instrumental to his educational development?
And if you think kids cannot understand gadgetry without your assistance, take a look at NIIT Chief Scientist Dr. Sugata Mitra’s astonishing project in India, where a hole was drilled in the wall and a computer with basic facilities was put in that hole; kids with totally zero knowledge of computers came around to play with; and in hours, kids already knew how to use this computer (A more technical copy of this project is here). You also would want to take a look at the OLPC Ethiopian project, where kids learnt to hack OLPC Android boxes with no external help in less than five months! So don’t even worry yourself with whether the child can use the computer or not.
There are a number of cheap gadgets you can get in your local mall (if you still do cannot contact the OLPC)
– The classical Rubik cube is virtually everywhere in the world and could increase a child’s smarts. Not really a gadget per se, but worth the mention (probably because I love it)
– Very fun and educational games like Playstation, Nintendo, could prove useful for a child, though control is necessary for these games, to avoid addiction
– An e-reader like the Amazon Kindle could encourage kids to study, since there’s also the E-ink version that emulates the traditional paperback books they are used to reading.
– Netbooks are also very cheap, and could serve as general purpose computers for your kids. And since they mostly do not come with DVD drives, kids are discouraged from going to the local store to get DVD movies. Yes they could attempt to download movies on the internet, but if you don’t want them to, you could set parental restrictions on the sites they visit and the file content they can download.
Donate to projects that work to make information technology accessible to poor kids.
There are projects out there that strive very hard to educate our kids as much as possible, with free tools and applications. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) like edX, CourseRA, Khan Academy, VentureLabs, etc are good resources for free education for both college and high school kids alike. On the home front, I must really commend the efforts of innovators like GAPS Academy and PassNowNow for their immense efforts to reducing the failure rate of our kids in Nigeria university entrance examinations. Educational bloggers and activists also are worth the praise (Chibuzor Amos’ note is worth a mention here). If you cannot affect a child directly, you can indirectly impact on a child by donating to these bodies/organizations.
Develop child-friendly applications
This applies majorly to developers. Most times our main interest is in making money with our application development skills. We could devote a little more time to developing (and supporting the development of) applications that appeal to kids too. Ideas like parental control apps, kid-friendly keyboard layouts (that just popped into my head though) and the likes are very interesting and valuable things that, may not yield the profit or audience you desire, but will go a long way in adding value to someone that will turn out to be a leader tomorrow.
There are many ways to impact into a child’s life this children’s day, so walk into a shop (or the internet), get a gadget for a child, and let us together train a leader of tomorrow today!