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Aiming to transform the ways children live, learn and play in the digital age, MIT has announced the establishment of the Okawa Center for Future Children.
The new center is made possible through a $27 million donation from Isao Okawa, chairman of CSK Corp. and Sega Enterprises Ltd. The donation is one of the largest in MIT's 137-year history and is believed to be the largest gift ever by a Japanese individual to a foreign institution.
"Children are leading the way in creating the information society," said Mr. Okawa. "This new center grows out of my commitment to help current and future children around the world."
Part of a major expansion of the Media Lab, the Okawa Center will be housed in a new building to be constructed next to the existing Media Lab.
"Children are the world's most precious natural resource," said Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and director of the Media Lab. "Improving the lives of children is the best path to global wealth, health and peace."
The Okawa Center is founded on the belief that new digital technologies provide a historic opportunity for fundamental changes in children's learning and education. "The digital revolution both necessitates and makes possible a learning revolution," said Mitchel Resnick, the LEGO Papert Associate Professor of Learning Research at the Media Lab. "Our goal is to transform how children learn, what they learn and who they learn with."
Okawa Center researchers will rethink the design of digital technologies to meet the needs of children around the world. At the same time, they will rethink the nature of childhood itself, exploring new roles that children might play in a digital society. Researchers will work closely with children in diverse cultural settings, from inner-city neighborhoods to rural one-room schoolhouses in the developing world.
The establishment of the Okawa Center was announced as part of Junior Summit '98, in which children from around the world joined together on line and at MIT to develop plans and actions for dealing with major world problems. Mr. Okawa initiated and hosted the first Junior Summit in Tokyo in 1995.
Mr. Okawa established CSK, a business software and service company, in 1968. He acquired Sega Enterprises in 1984 and has fostered its development as a home-software entertainment company. He now oversees 90 companies with a total annual turnover of approximately $7.5 billion. Through the Okawa Foundation, he is aiding research, development and education in the information field. He also advises the Japanese government on business policy.
The Okawa Center will build on the Media Lab's long tradition of developing new ideas and innovative technologies to support children's learning. The pioneering research of Professor Seymour Papert established the Media Lab's distinctive constructionist approach to learning and education, in which children learn through a process of designing, inventing and experimenting. The goal is hard fun: projects that are challenging but playful, demanding but rewarding.
To support and propagate this style of learning, Media Lab researchers have invented technologies used by millions of children around the world. This year, LEGO introduced a line of programmable bricks based on Media Lab research. Recently, the Media Lab established a new consortium of toy companies and electronics companies with the goal of inventing the toys of tomorrow.
The Okawa Center will extend and broaden this work. Researchers from around the world will collaborate on the design of new digitalenvironments, drawing on all forms of human expression. Advanced techniques for music, dance, storytelling and the visual arts will be developed hand-in-hand with the most advanced computers, networks and interface designs. The Okawa Center's research agenda will include active connections with countries around the globe, with special focus on the world's poorest countries.
The Tokyo-based architecture firm of Maki and Associates led by Fumihiko Maki has been selected to design the new building that will house the Okawa Center. The building is expected to open in 2003, but the work of the center will begin immediately within the existing Media Lab building.
"Mr. Okawa's extraordinary gift provides MIT with the opportunity to become the world leader in the study of technology and children," said President Charles Vest.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 25, 1998.