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From "A World Bank Blog on ICT use in Education", submitted by Michael Trucano 

 

"It is the most profound and irreversible of revolutions" said Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez of the myriad changes that information and communications technologies are having on societies. President Vázquez was speaking at an event sponsored by the Inter-american Development Bank in Washington earlier this week to highlight his country’s accomplishments under what may be the world’s most ambitious nationwide roll-out of computers in a country’s education system.

Plan Ceibal, the education reform initiative that is aiming (most famously) to provide one laptop for every student and teacher in Uruguay, is set, according to project director Miguel Brechner, to achieve ’full deployment’ at the primary level by the end of this month, and is now targeting secondary education as well. Brechner’s very informative presentation provided insight into the context, scale and ambition behind the initiative, and included some very intriguing preliminary results. (Unfortunately the archived video of Brechner’s speech is not yet available on the IDB web site, but his presentation is now available for download; please note that this link is to a PowerPoint file.) Noting the changes that have occured since the project began to roll-out just a few years ago in partnership with the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, Bechner stated that, when it came to individual access to personal computing for all students in Uruguay, "What was a privilege in 2006 is a right in 2009". The Uruguayan example, Brechner continued, shows that it is indeed possible to provide a laptop (for free) to every student, and how this can be done. In the case of Uruguay, "costs are manageable", he said, and "impacts are immediate". Uruguay’s interest in serving as a global model for educational transformation enabled in large part by 1-to-1 computing for students is laudable, and Brechner’s presentation was rather unique in that it shared cost data of the sort that is rarely published officially. (No doubt others will be sifting through this cost data with a fine-toothed comb in the months and years to come; you can have a look for yourself on slides seven and eight of his presentation.)

When Brechner spoke of ’impact’, what was perhaps most notable (at least to me) was not the reports of early impact so far (in fact, most large ICT in education initiatives self-report positive impacts of various sorts quite quickly), but the caveats that accompanied them. Showing a slide that showed increased school attendance since Plan Ceibal kicked off, Brechner was quite honest in commenting that "Can we say this is the direct impact of Ceibal? No. Can we say it is not? The answer is also: no." Announcing that Uruguay is "open for research", Brechner made very clear the keen interest of project proponents in exploring the nature and extent of the impact of the many changes being brought about through Plan Ceibal. In a press release the following day, the IDB announced related activities to evaluate the effectiveness of computer use in classrooms. Let’s hope that the book on Plan Ceibal due out next month in Uruguay is just the first in a series of rigorous documentation of what has worked, what hasn’t, how, and why, during the course of this ambitious initiative. As more people become aware of what is being done in Uruguay, no doubt interest will grow among policymakers and political figures around the world in learning from this experience.

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Is Uruguay’s the most comprehensive roll-out of computers to students in the world? Quite possibly, but there is another strong contender for this crown: Portugal, through its ’Magellan Plan’. At the same IDB event, Portuguese Deputy Minister of Education Jorge Pedreira sketched out the ambitious agenda being pursued by his country in this area. There are notable differences between the two initiatives, with the Portuguese emphasis on the use of public-private partnerships the most immediately obvious. [Here’s a direct link  to Dr. Pedreira’s PowerPoint file.] That said, if you are looking for the first complete roll-out of 1-to-1 computing and connectivity for all of a country’s students, you would be technically accurate in saying that the small Pacific island nation of Niue has both Portugal and Uruguay beat, although with only one primary and one secondary school serving a population of under 1500 total inhabitants, the size of the Niue roll-out is a rounding error when compared to the vast scope of the Uruguayan and Portuguese initiatives. However you do your calculations, there is no denying that neither Niue or Portugal has a postage stamp celebrating the use of education technology like Uruguay does!

More information about Plan Ceibal and OLPC in Uruguay:

 

YouTube video presented by Nicholas Negroponte