The people behind One Laptop Per Child wanted to see if illiterate children who don't have access to school could benefit from a tablet computer, so they dropped off a few Motorola Xooms in remote, isolated Ethiopian villages, reports the MIT Technology Review. The tablets were preloaded with educational apps and solar chargers, but came in sealed boxes with no instructions. Researchers figured the kids, who had rarely if ever seen written words, wouldn't know what to do, but within four minutes one child had opened the box and powered up the machine.
Two weeks later, researchers observed a few of the kids singing the ABC song. After five months, they realized the kids had figured out how to hack into the Android platform so they could customize the device's desktop, something the researchers had explicitly tried to prevent with blocking software. OLPC's chief technology officer was encouraged, saying "it was clearly the kind of creativity, the kind of inquiry, the kind of discovery that we think is essential to learning." But he said it will take up to two years of study, and probably another experiment in a different village, to say definitively whether the approach to learning can help students with no access to schools. (Read more Ethiopia stories.)