I've received some emails and calls recently, some in response to discussions started at World Festival two weeks ago and some just out of desperation. Let me summarize the issue here and see if our readers can offer some assistance. While I'm speaking from a USA point-of-view, this discussion certainly has equal concern around the globe.
While FLL is growing and the NXT is constantly being integrated into new classrooms, there are probably more schools that do NOT have access to this technology than schools that do. Some of the issues that have been brought up:
* There are cost barriers - How can we make certain that every school that wants an NXT kit in the classroom can get one? Apple had (or still has) the "An Apple in every classroom" - how could LEGO and/or LEGO Education (L/LE) do the same? Could corporate entities be given a way to sponsor a school or schools? How about individuals? What is in place if I should decide to donate $250+ to "buy" a kit for a school in need?
* There are language barriers (the NXT and software only support English, French, Spanish, and German, I believe) - How could the books, websites, software Help files, and more be more easily translated to other languages? Again, could corporate support fund this? Would L/LE provide source documentation for translation and download to those countries that need materials translated?
* Most teachers didn't major in Computer Science - how can we expect teachers to integrate robotics into their math/science curriculum without some sort of formalized training or more user-friendly documentation? LE is probably stretched thin as it is to offer classes and training to teachers in their respective areas. Where are teachers to obtain training so they, in turn, can pass along those skills to students?
* There are limits to student participation - whether it's the FLL team size of 10 students or just a logistical limit based on class size and availability, how can we ensure that every student who wants to participate in either competitions or math/science classroom projects has equal access? Some schools have one (1!!) NXT kit to go around... it would be interesting if we could figure out the average number of students per NXT kit, but I won't hold my breath. The real question here is how can we make sure that every school has a sufficient number of kits to satisfy classroom demand.
* Is the private sector aware that its future is tied to technology in the classroom? - More and more jobs are requiring a higher-level of education and/or technical-skill level. Many kids grow up being as comfortable holding a computer mouse as they are holding a toy. But again, not all kids. Many corporations are involved in sponsorship, mentoring, and funding of technologies in schools, but again, not all schools are so lucky.
The NXT community is a sub-group of the larger LEGO community, but the level of technology offered by the NXT has the potential here to, quite honestly, make a bigger change in a single student's future than any other LEGO product (IMO). At a minimum, the NXT could spark students' inquisitive natures and instill an urge to learn more about other subjects. Specifically, the NXT can inspire students to dig deeper into math and science (which always seem to be lagging in interest according to the media) and encourage them to pursue engineering studies. But, back to the purpose of this post, there is not equal access for many different reasons.
Advice? Thoughts? Solutions? Please share them here as comments or in the Forum section that I've started here. I've started a new section in the forum where education can meet up with private sector. If you know of grants, scholarships, or sources of funds, please share them. If you know of companies that are extremely supportive of schools, please share that information. If you know of resources, books, websites, or other media that can help teachers, students, parents, and school officials, let us know.