posted on behalf of Holly Jobe
After crossing the Plata River from Colonia, Uruguay to Buenos Aires, we had some free time to explore Buenos Aires over the weekend. I am impressed with what a beautiful and world – class city we are in. The architecture, interesting neighborhoods, parks, history and modern conveniences makes Buenos Aires quite a destination city.
Buenos Aires City
Monday morning we were all up and ready for our visits. We started with a meeting with the Minister of Education for Buenos Aires City, Esteban Bullrich and his staff. Buenos Aires is unique in that as the largest city in the country, it has its own ministry of education comparable to the 24 provincial ministries of education each with its own minister of education and staff (like our states). In addition to participating in the federal government’s large-scale laptop program, Conectar Igualad (1 million computers deployed in secondary schools nationwide), the city has its own ICT laptop initiative, Plan S@rmiento for elementary schools, named after Sarmiento who is considered the father of Argentine education, to create an elementary program for 21st Century education.
In addition to Minister Bullrich, we met with Mercedes Miguel the director general of educational planning for the city, Maria Florencia Ripani, the operations director for the project and Jorge M. Aguado who leads Plan S@rmiento implementation.
Since the early 90s, Buenos Aires has had technology in labs and interactive whiteboards. The Mayor of the city realized that ICT is at the core of society and it is not enough to use computers once a week. Society changing rapidly and actions they needed to act in order to keep up. Plan S@rmiento along with Conectar Igualad are key public policies for the government. Buenos Aires will participate in PISA separately from rest of Argentina during the next testing cycle. PISA will be looking at ICT and how students are using it.
Bullrich was brought in by the current governor to change education in the city and improve teacher quality, which includes working closely with the 17 unions that represent the teachers. There is quite a bit of distrust of Bullrich by the teachers because he comes from outside of education. He has tried to mitigate that issue by providing his personal cell phone number to all of the teachers. When he became minister of education about a year and a half ago, 10-15% of the schools had Internet. Now, 100% have it. All school administrators now have blackberries. All of this change may be too much too fast. There are current strikes based on how teachers selected. Teachers have had a strong influence on teacher selection and the ministry of education for the city wants a say in teacher selection. They have instituted the first teacher evaluation in the country and are working with Chile and Ecuador on this. Ongoing continuing professional development and a focus on teacher improvement whose starting salaries are $1200 per month, are key issues for this administration.
Plan S@rmiento is an elementary program and Buenos Aires city is the first administration in the country to provide all elementary students 1:1 access. There are 160,000 public elementary students in the city, about 50% of the total elementary school population. Buenos Aires has a higher ratio of public to private students than most provinces that are generally about 70% public and 30% private.
Plan S@rmiento is a master plan for digital literacy and involves 592 schools. 16,000 teachers have been provided notebooks and 160,000 students net books. 250 radio transmitters for network connectivity have been provided and one agency is handles the network, service for repair of equipment in five centers located throughout the city. The five-year contract for this project began in July and through it, 60% of the equipment can be replaced.
Plan S@rmiento is not a computer-based program. It is a pedagogical learning program with key policy issues that include: Encouraging new approaches to the student-teacher relationships, speaking the language of new media, exploring new ways of understanding and representing reality, learning and playing in digital environments, promoting equal opportunities in learning environments and working cooperatively to build up transformation and innovation. Special education is included in the program and communication, 21st c skills, and collaborative work is stressed. A pilot program was initiated last year and teachers were trained the year before computers arrived.
An ICT facilitator who actually started working with teachers before the computers arrived is available in each school to provide in-school training to teachers and assistance in lesson planning. The ministry provides guidelines for classroom preparation to help teachers create and choose the best content and to plan collaborative learning environments, not necessarily one to many as previously. A portal is being developed as a collaborative space where teachers and parents can upload content and teachers will be able to create virtual classrooms. The portal is not currently checked for quality. They have just signed an agreement with Google for all teachers and students. Access to the network is provided city wide through WiMAX, which is restricted to students and teachers. They have one contract for the network and computers. They learned from Uruguay where they have a single telecommunications company, but a separate contract for the computers. There is also itinerant tech support and a help desk for teachers Teachers get computers without the Internet connection when they retire and students will get to keep their net book at end of 6th grade. For middle school and high school students, there is a focus on preparing them for the work force. For parents, there are real efforts in getting them involved in educational process and providing them classes in cooking and nutrition or on computers. Plan S@rmiento is essentially a social inclusion program. Often it is the first time people have computers in their homes and it is the start of creating digital community throughout the city.
Reflection: Again, the commitment by the city government to provide access to all elementary students and to help reform the teaching profession on such a scale is commendable. Like all large cities, Buenos Aires has slums and undesirable housing conditions. This program ensures that all students have the same chances for success. The current city government appears to have strong leadership. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be widespread support for the reforms and I am concerned by how education systems around the world are dependent on a strong political climate to ensure that good programs are implemented successfully and there is the political will to create policies and conditions for them to continue. I am not sure about the fate of Buenos Aires city schools. I am not sure they have the political support to fully implement and continue the good programs they have begun. Unless they can win over the unions before the term ends, I have concern.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen similar actions in my own state and it’s discouraging not to have everyone on the same page working towards the same goals.
Our group moved on to the International Institute of Planning in Education serving 24 Latin American and Spanish or Portuguese speaking African countries. We met with the coordinator, Maria Teresa Lugo, Valeria Kelly, Consultant, Natalia Fernandez Laya and Fernando Salvatierra, project leaders and Sebastian Schulman who works in the ICT section of the institute and provided much needed translation. The Institute is funded through UNESCO and is designed to support work done in countries as requested. Work falls under the following major areas:
1-Ed policy agenda with ICT development. Twenty of the twenty-four member countries already have programs with 1:1 projects being the largest, there are others such as labs, and mobile classrooms.
2-Digital learning environments with principals and leaders. They provide technical assistance to members in how to scale and diversify – also to policy makers.
3- Leadership for principals with specific skills for managing and leading ICT in schools. This is conducted with the belief that principals need a special kind a training separate from teachers.
4-Devices and models – Investigating ICT devices and integration models other than net books ie mobiles, m- learning. Looking at tailoring devices for neighborhoods and specific learning challenges.
5-Digital content and digital culture. If it can be printed, it is not truly digital content.
6-Evaluating ICT policies in terms of learning. Teacher training is a big issue. It does not work to have all teachers trained at same time in same strategies. We need to find better solutions such as in school training etc.
Most of the region has an unequal society and IIPE has found that:
1- programs want to create social equality and justice for everyone
2- educational issues and ICT do not always bring health to the system although it may calm the systems.
3- relationship between public and private partnerships. There are issues where states are often in a weak position where the same training programs offered in all countries with no customization. The same happens with digital content. IIPE is working to develop capacities in countries so they can do it themselves and help the private sector to adapt more contextualized offerings.
Some regional projects include:
Costa Rica – evaluation project for teacher competencies
Chile- mobile technologies
Colombia- portal, Working on study of mobile technologies
Paraguay – high levels of poverty- project for literacy with cell phones
Brazil – teacher training experience
IIPE is engaged in the Argentine Conectar Igualdad program partnering with the Argentine Ministry of Education to develop a professional development manual for school principals to assist them in learning skills to manage ICT projects in schools in the framework of the Conectar Igualdad program. It is expected that the program will last 6 months and will benefit 10,000 principals and supervisors.
Teresa and Sebastian then accompanied us to visit a school. Because of the teacher strikes, we visited a private school with a one to one program. Our first stop was to a 7th grade computer science class where students were programming a stoplight to not only manage the flow of cars, but pedestrians. Students were working in pairs on their computers and testing their programs on the computer at the front of the room that was connected to the stoplight. This constructivist activity was engaging and pushed students to think beyond their first hunches as they were completing the assignment. As we watched the lesson, I was interested in the rest of the student’s work displayed in the room. Clearly it was a self-contained classroom where teachers circulated through. There was evidence of science, history, writing and math on the walls. I was particularly impressed with the math, which involved the multiplying and dividing the square roots of fractions. It seemed advanced for 7th grade, but it’s been awhile since 7th grade math! Students were dressed in white smocks that seemed more like lab coats like we saw in Uruguay, I’m sure to provide a common uniform for students and to keep their street clothes clean.
We moved on to the first grade where students were asked to design an animal using a drawing program on their computers and pay particular attention to their animal’s habitat and dietary needs. This project was clearly asking students to think about their animal and make connections between what they knew about their animal and the habitat they had drawn.
We then had a chat with the head of school, the computer coach and other teachers about what we saw. It was a full and rich day.
Reflection: The region is fortunate to have such capable and hard-working professionals providing services, guidance, research and collaboration from the IIPE. The group is well respected and brings ICT professionals together under common interests and facilitates sharing and collaboration.
Ministry of Education – Argentina
Our second day in Buenos Aires started out with a visit with Laura Serra, ICT Manager & Convergence for the Ministry of Education and Cecilia Sagol, Content Director, Edc.AR , the creators of the portal, in the Educ.AR offices.
Laura began by sharing about the Conectar Igualdad program that is the largest laptop program in the world designed for high school students throughout Argentina with an installation of 1 million computers throughout the country. I learned the next day that the program was instituted through political pressure exerted by the 400,000 Uruguayans who live in Argentina and wanted to see a similar plan to Plan Ceibal in Argentina. The president who was up for re-election made it part of her political platform although some of the 24 provinces throughout the country were not equipped to scale up the program in such a short time. In one year a 250,000 net book pilot project was scaled to 1 million net books nationwide.
About 10 different models of computers are used, each costing about $200 each with an additional $70 for software and antitheft software. After three days, the computers won’t work and students need to go back to school to restart them. This is an anti-theft deterrent. There is a replacement program built into the program and they will be replenished after three years. The details of this have not been worked out.
As with Uruguay, the main objective of the government for this program is social inclusion and the education department wants to change classroom practice. There are 11 universities with contracts to evaluate various aspects of the program. They are coordinated through Educ.AR. One of the issues is that there are no clear or common standards that schools around the country are following and it makes designing the evaluation of the project a challenge.
The Conectar Igualdad program is working with another separate agency, Educ.AR, to create learning objects to use on the net books and that will work off line because there is not enough bandwidth in most schools in the country for a class of students to be all on the network at once. They are also creating a portal which includes information and support about the equipment used in the project, content for use in class and projects, training programs, contests for teachers and students, research and testing and training and teaching. In developing the learning objects, they are making them short modular segments that are articulate, use multimedia, appeal to diverse learners, are digital and can be adapted to local needs and to local high schools.
The portal has a desktop for students, which includes games, videos, programs, activities, courses and digital books. The teacher desktop includes a library, courses, videos, software and programs, activities, grade books, scope and sequences and suggested lesson plans. The desktop for special needs students includes adaptive technology resources among other things. The family desktop has recommended Internet sites, a glossary, responsible use guidelines and information on how to use the Internet. There is a section of digital how – to resources including an online library, videos related to subjects, an image gallery, animated infographics and a hypermedia resource collection. Over 400 videos have been created in house and teachers and students will be encouraged to develop content through contests that can be uploaded.
Regional ICT Leaders
After a delightful informal lunch of at the IIPE, we met via videoconference with colleagues from Chile, Peru and Cordoba, the second largest city in Argentina to hear about their programs. Below are the notes from these sessions
Chile – Cristina Escobar – head of technologies for management and learning area Enlaces (connected to dept of Ed, separate agency)
Early 1990s. To help low income students
Now in charge of tech for country
Put labs in schools
Now working on use of tech in classrooms
Used mobile labs, projectors in every classroom grades 1-8
2009 census every school – index about infrastructure and competencies of students and teachers
2012 will conduct another census to see change
Assessment on use of tech in classroom
Now measuring impact
Teachers the challenge – working with coaches in schools that need additional help. They are working on other projects for those schools ready to advance.
3rd and 4th grade focus on math and language in 400 schools to prepare the students for the standardized test.
2 years ago mobile labs in schools – on carts in grades 3 and 4. 1000 schools. Problems – teachers don’t know how to collaborate
11,000 schools – 3,000 rural
3 million students
Nearly 9,000 have computers, all have electricity. Not all have connectivity yet.
2012 expect 90% of the schools to be connected at 4 mg
Teacher professional development- started face to face and with blended learning
3 pillars drive the program
1. Infrastructure and support
2. Teacher training – curricular grid for teachers – they take minimum courses.
3. Each school has to submit a plan on how they are using ICT in their schools
The plans are evaluated and approved.
Peru – Oscar Becerra
Former Ed tech dir for Peru now Sr. VP Whitney University. http://www.whitneyintl.com/
(he changed jobs when the new administration came in)
OLPC computers was their platform – largest to support rural and poor children 200,000 students
Went to 100% schools
Studies: 5 variables towards increased motivation in school – all improved
Improved reading comprehension
Connectivity challenged by geography
Portable Internet -set of pages provided asynchronously – updated every six months – 2 gig pages
Slow reaction for making change. Companies were resistant because they weren’t making money.
Chose OLPC because of ease, can read screen in sunlight, cost
95,000 schools 75% public, 20,000 one room schools
Level of teachers poor 62% of them have reading comprehension levels at 6th grade.
90% of the teachers have math levels at a 4th grade level.
Indicators of success in their evaluation of the program – students and teachers were asked questions around the following areas:
1- feeling what you do is important
2. Creative tension is OK
3. effective relations between teachers and students
4. Freedom of choice
5. School is important
Designed 40 hr workshop for teachers – includes how to work with their communities – most very poor and some parents illiterate. Students helping parents to read.
June 2008 – Newsweek – one laptop meets big business Google search http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_24/b4088048125608.htm
Teacher professional development. They need teachers – are woefully behind
People don’t learn because they were taught well, they learn because they want to learn.
Coaching helps, sent student volunteers to help teachers. Had programs for Students to help teachers from US and France.
Delegations often go on “living room visits” There are good schools and examples – winners of international competitions – not the average.
Universities turning out poor teachers – training in outdated curriculum.
Ministry of Ed has the power to provide Internet to 1300 schools
Connectivity is important, but not so important – best to help teachers understand that what they did before isn’t as important like being font of knowledge. They need to help students learn to learn.
Every new government throws out what has come before – this has happened in Peru
He and his colleagues are working with local governments to use what they have, there probably won’t be new computers coming in.
Cordoba – Gabriela Galindez, ICT Center Coordinator
Second largest province in Argentina – mountains and rural
She has 20 years in education, 11 at the ministry of Ed
Has civil position- Dec maybe some changes, same party coming in
2145 primary schools, 760 secondary schools
12 years total in the education system
4 yr old kg mandatory
Teacher training done at tertiary level for 4 years, not at university level
Since 2008 ICT policy more focused
Her role is teacher training and development – network of training in province of facilitators. They provide contextual training with trainers from each subject area.
Equipment – national programs and provincial programs mostly focused on Specific issues. Now there is general implementation. (federal focus on secondary, local resources on elementary and primary)
Teachers can get points to advance their careers when they implement their projects in their classrooms.
Not all teachers get certification, but can apply what they learn.
Beginning professional development program for principals and supervisors
Using ICT training – blended training, designed specifically for them and they were interested in tools they can use. Had virtual tutors to support their work.
Results- principals got 2 important results
1-ICT matrix applied at their school -involved others in materials selection and involvement of community
2- had to create action plan congruent with ICT matrix
Second level will include more evaluating classroom use of technology.
600 principals participated for 2 months
1- main issue, ICT policy is public policy and education is a right. All problems of education get amplified with ICT. Children are attending school more, but are not learning. Policies need to include ICT, not be separate.
2-Gaps in access and use. Another gap between what students expect and what schools can offer are getting wider.
3- economic rationale – sending computers first then thinking about what we do with them.
4- initial training and development needed.
Post Delegation Activities
After our delegation completed our work in Argentina, I had lunch with a friend of a friend, Mariana Maggio from Microsoft. It turned out that she has been intimately involved with Conectar Igualdad and is actively engaged in one of the evaluation projects through her parallel position with the University of Buenos Aires.
She provided some background information that helped make sense of what we’d heard the last few days. Buenos Aires province, which does not include the city of Buenos Aries has 40% of the school population. There are 45,000 schools nationwide administered by 24 Ministers of Education in the provinces as well as Buenos Aires city.
San Luis province has a model IT implementation over 10 years
They provided free wifi all through the state and are creating a digital highway for all services as well as implementing digital id for all citizens.
In 2008 100,000 homes, about 30% were connected to the Internet. Within 6 months 80% were connected. This was subsidized by lottery funds that gave citizens a rebate on ½ the cost of their computers.
Involved 8 partners (computer producers) and 45 retail stores.
The governor of San Luis wants to give power to the children.
Began implementation with rural schools first.
Provided equipment and trained all teachers first
Currently they have 40,000 students involved in chess tournaments and groups of students have been invited to attend the NASA space camps.
ANSES – Social security agency – paid for large scale up of the project.
There was only a pilot of 250,000 computers for the Conectar Igualdad Argentina project. There was really no planning for scaling the project. The infrastructure is not in place. This was a political decision to develop the program quickly.
There are about 400,000 Uruguayan people in Argentina who were pushing against the presidential campaign and Plan Ceibal became a huge issue in Argentina’s election because they wanted to see the same thing in Argentina. The papers were against the incumbent, so she created Conectar Igualdad about 1.5 years before the election. She got reelected.
A number of provinces don’t have the leadership or connectivity to effectively implement the program. Missiones for example will have servers at schools with stored Internet pages. Not a great solution.
Educ.ar is an independent agency not part of the MOE that is creating the materials. They are making content decisions and are creating some custom materials for various provinces they are working with MOE, not part of MOE.
Organization of Iberianamerican States is managing the RFP and training teachers. They have basic courses online and onsite. They are linked to the MOE, Educ.ar and provincal MOEs
Argentina did not go with OLPC because they could not decide where to start the project because they have 11 million students throughout the country. While they delayed a decision, Uruguay took the plunge. This is why they were getting pressure from the public to institute a 1:1 program. They decided on classmates at the secondary level and in tech schools.
There are 42 national universities. 11 are involved in evaluation projects which are all coordinated through Educ.ar. There is no clear educational design in the project and evaluation is a challenge.
Everyone in all the agencies feel pressure to ensure the program succeeds although it is flawed because so much of the infrastructure is not in place and the program was scaled too fast because of political pressure.
Iguazu Normal 8 School Visit
Mariana, with whom I’d had lunch the day before had contacted someone from the MOE of Missiones Province to see if they could arrange a visit with a school. I was picked up and taken to the Normal 8 Iguazu school. An English teacher accompanied the director of the school and coach from the ministry of education.
The school was secondary, but had a small primary section because it was focused on future teacher development. We spent almost all of our time with the biology teacher who had the students creating stop-action claymation type of videos using colored clay to represent the parts of the digestive system. Each of the students had a classmate that they had individually decorated. Students were working in groups of about 5 and the teacher circulated around the room making comments and encouraging the groups.
Two other coaches arrived and I had a wonderful opportunity to chat with them about the program and their excitement. The teachers just got their computers almost 4 months ago and some have taken off and are trying new things, others feel it’s going too fast and they are not prepared to use the many machines in their classrooms. There was a clear commitment by these coaches to the success of the program. Our conversation echoed so many I had during my work in Pennsylvania.
I think what struck me the most is because this was an impromptu visit and there was no time for preparation or staging before I arrived, the teacher and students were doing what they would have and frankly when I arrived and was introduced, many of the students barely looked up to acknowledge I was there because they were so engaged in their work.
At the end of the period, the teacher circulated and viewed each team’s work and selected one to show to the whole class. In the few minutes remaining, we had a whole group discussion about the value of the program and how thrilled they are to have the classmates. All but one (the English teacher translator) were shy to speak English on the video, but my new best friend, Andres, was delighted to translate. These will be posted for everyone to view.
One of the problems that Mariana had pointed out to us the day before, was corroborated by my conversations there. There is a woeful lack of telecommunications infrastructure in Missiones Province. As we all heard from other presenters, they are creating work-arounds such as caching websites and focusing on activities that can be used in unconnected lessons. Due to their location, any wireless infrastructure (including cell networks) is compromised because of their proximity to Brazil and Paraguay just across the rivers. Apparently there are a lot of dropped calls and connections. I experienced this in my hotel as well.
I am impressed with the vision and commitment of leaders and educators in Argentina to create a compelling vision that has such widespread support of a social inclusion program that will help all levels of students have a shot at success. The programs from the federal MOE providing not only computers, but professional development and instructional resources through the portal is well thought out and there are many committed professionals to making it work. Many of the provinces and the city of Buenos Aires are poised to leverage the federal program to reach more students and families with state resources.
I leave thinking that Argentina has many of the same problems that we face in the U.S. with varying capacities of states and regions to fully implement or take advantage of programs because of lack of infrastructure or leadership. The other concern I expressed earlier about the political nature of education and there being no proven track record of a country whose citizens have mandated through the ballot box that they want to keep these programs. Uruguay elected a new president from the same party so the program survived. Argentina’s president was pushed to offer a similar program to Uruguay, so it may be that these two countries are on the way to having the public influence decisions related to education. The case of Peru is disheartening with members of the opposing party winning the election and dismissing the program.
In any case, there is clear commitment and vision on the part of educational leaders that we met and even grass root teachers, coaches and administrators see the impact of the computers in learning and student engagement. It will be hard to take these powerful learning tools away from students and teachers now that they have experienced success.
posted on behalf of Holly Jobe
posted on behalf of Holly Jobe
I am delighted to be invited to participate in the CoSN Leadership Study Tour to Uruguay and Argentina. With the wonderful meetings and school visits that CoSN has set up, we are getting a good view of how ICT is viewed and large scale 1:1 laptop programs are implemented in these countries.
After an overnight flight to Montevideo and checking into our hotel, we freshened up for meetings to introduce us to Plan Ceibal, a country wide 1:1 technology implementation program. We began by meeting with Laura Motta, a consultant intimately involved with the project, then off to the US Embassy where we met with Public Affairs Officer, Susan Bridenstine and Education Specialist, Veronica Perz-Urioste who began to sketch out a picture of the many partners of the program. This picture was filled in more fully by our next stop at the Ministry of Education where we meet with Vice Minister of Education Maria Simon and the National Director of Education, Louis Gabribaldi.
Plan Ceibal was created as a national program to address issues of social inclusion and to provide equal opportunity to all students throughout Uruguay. It is an education program that includes a 1:1 laptop program for all students at all levels of society. We learned that 450,000 laptops have been delivered to grades 1-9 students in 2450 schools and 26,000 teachers have been trained to use them in their classrooms.
Many Uruguayan schools are rural and some are one-room schoolhouses without electricity. For these schools and homes without electricity, portable solar charging units are provided. WiFi connectivity is available via hotspots located in 130 public places and 150 neighborhoods throughout the country.
The program was begun in 2007 with a pilot of 150 students and by 2009, 320,000 computers were distributed to all public elementary (grade 1-6) students. The OX OLPC open-source computer was chosen for its cost-effectiveness and as the program has expanded, additional computers have been selected for middle and secondary students.
What is unique about Plan Ceibal is that this project is managed by an independent organization that manages equipment and connectivity contracts, professional development, portal development, and digital content development. Plan Ceibal has widespread political and social support from the President of Uruguay to ordinary citizens who express pride in being Uruguayan where all students are being brought into the 21st Century. Twenty-one institutions including the teacher’s union have cooperated in creating the project, which has great support of the Ministry of Education but is implemented outside of the education framework.
Currently 99% of the schools throughout the country have Internet access with fiber to schools, they have trained over 26,000 teachers and hired 900 what they call support teachers and I would consider coaches to assist teachers in using the equipment effectively. In addition they have 1500 volunteers working on the project.
The delegation was very interested in the cost of the program. It was stressed repeatedly that Uruguay is a small country and a program such is this is affordable. Plan Ceibal is less than 5% of the education budget of the year, less than .15 of the GDP. It actually boils down to about $400 per child and over four years is about $8 per month. It costs about $50 Million a year to implement this program.
Impact – Students and parents
Because Plan Ceibal is a social and cultural inclusion program, it has raised the self-esteem of students and has provided parents with access to a computers and the Internet in their homes. For many throughout the country, this is the first time they have had such opportunities. There are training programs for parents and students are encouraged to teach their parents how to use the computers.
Impact – Teachers
Teachers are finding their role change to motivators (from information shovelers (their words)). The computers are being used 4-5 hrs a week out of 20. Online testing is now possible because all children have devices. They have tested in science, math, and comprehension. There is a strong movement to supporting new teacher practices in the classrooms by providing guidance to change practice and not automate the curriculum. Plan Ceibal worked with whole schools as it implemented the program and created online professional development and an on-line community for teachers.
In the middle and secondary schools, robotics kits are being provided for tech labs as well as physics and chemistry lab sensors in those subjects. Currently there are 1500 e-books available.
Priorities for the future include creating more personalized learning opportunities for students, incorporating intelligent books within the curriculum, providing personalized homework and creating an adaptive platform for reading comprehension and math. One of the slides that was shared with us listed on-going issues that they will continue to address:
1 Technology – infrastructure and maintenance
2 Education and training
3 Research and evaluation
4 Innovation and development
5 Digital intent for teachers and students
Plan Ceibal is managing some substantial issues as part of the project. One is slow Internet, which prevents teachers from using whole-class online activities. The computers are installed with quite a lot of grade and age appropriate software that can be used in most subjects. There is also focus on creating more materials and making them available through a portal.
The other main issue of the program is teacher training. The program began with a plan of cascading training with teachers training each other, which clearly has not worked. They know they need to continue with teacher professional development and are interested in developing their coaches further.
One area that was refreshing to me is that there are no high stakes testing in Uruguay and focus of teacher development and in all the conversations we had was on helping students develop 21st century skills, problem solving, project-based learning, and becoming independent learners. This has created another area of concern in that it is harder to measure success of the program because there are no standards or expectations set.
Plan Ceibal is impressive and set the bar for involving all students in this extensive 1:1 laptop program. It appears that at all levels of society, Plan Ceibal has positive wide-spread political and social will because the citizens see the program as way out and up as a country. Uruguay is developing rapidly and this visionary program is providing opportunities for all levels of society and walks of life to be included in 21st century learning. One speaker shared that the president of the country stated that ‘this is now the time for our students – let them lead’.
Our group was divided in half and I was privileged to go to Benito Juarez elementary school with grades Kg-6. Although the school is in a nice neighborhood and many of the students come from privileged homes, the school clearly needs maintenance attention. The principal shared that there is little budget for maintenance or to develop the library. The library that they have is one shelf in a locked cabinet in a locked unused classroom. Some of the younger grades were putting on a play for their parents about the early colonists in Uruguay and were prepared to do that and were not using the computers in their lessons that day. However, the students were eager to get their computers and show us what they do with them. Even the youngest students demonstrated ease in using them and were very enthusiastic. We got to see a 5th grade lesson where students were working in pairs. We didn’t see much change in classroom desk arrangement. Most had desks aligned in rows and the teacher’s desk was at the front of the room.
Throughout our visit, I was struck with the affection teachers and the principal expressed to the students in the form of kisses, pats and little hugs. When I remarked on this behavior, they indicated that children are fragile and it’s important to be affectionate with them.
Everyone throughout Uruguay knows about Plan Ceibal and is very proud of the program. This program was revolutionary and has set the standard for all of Latin America.
I am left profoundly impressed with what this country has been able to do by setting a lofty goal and working together to meet it in spite of issues. As we left Montevideo on our way to Colonia to catch the ferry, we drove past shanty towns on the edge of the city with houses created out of scraps of corrugated metal, old tiles and any building material they could pull together. As we passed them, I thought of the opportunities Plan Ceibal is providing the children and parents who live in those homes. Before they would never have access and would have been left out again of a moving and rising society because they don’t have electricity. Plan Ceibal has even considered this need by providing small solar chargers for the machines! Plan Ceibal is indeed a social inclusion program and it will be good to keep our eyes on this rising nation in a beautiful part of the world and with such warm and loving people.
posted on behalf of Holly Jobe
One week back from our visit to South America
How quick we return to our lives in the U. S. and our visit to the South seems like it was long ago—yet everyone that I see asks “What is it like down there?” “How are kids and schools using technology?” “ It must be very different—what did you see?” Over the holiday, I find myself talking more and more about drive, dedication and commitment from both the countries that we visited. Everyone is surprised to hear about how our neighbors to the south are addressing issues around Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) Skills. Here are some of the points that I have shared:
The Technical—Developing the infrastructure, can be summed up in these three points–keep it simple, leverage existing resources,have a strategic plan for growth. In both countries a wireless approach for schools and communities was implemented first, working with existing telecommunications companies. It has allowed students and families in the communities to have access quickly, with little cost and flexibility. But no one is stopping at this first phase; everywhere I ask, the discussion of a fiber backbone and upgrades is already in the plan and implementation of this second phase has already begun. This hybrid approach takes the wireless or fiber debate out of the equation and provides the best of both worlds in the long run. It is simple and effective for now, as the sophistication and need for greater bandwidth grows there will be scalable, strategic options that will benefit the country over time.
The Family— These projects are considered social programs, the goal is to shorten the digital divide and increase digital literacy for everyone. It was not uncommon for us to see students in the market or other places with laptops. Children and their parents share the experience and learning at home. The student owns the laptop and is responsible; students speak of how they work with their parents to share ICT skills and information. Family support and involvement in education at school, at home and in the community is evident and positive. It is cool to be in school; students, parents and leaders are proud of what they are doing and everyone shares a common goal.
The Political—Leadership from the highest levels and across 20 of the 24 Latin American Countries, there is discussion and collaboration and a common commitment to leverage ICT for learning. UNESCO is involved –helping counties identify policy, digital learning environment, leadership and training for educators, devices, digital content, digital culturalism and evaluation. It was fascinating to listen to Oscar Becerra from Peru with one of the longest running program and his insights, Esteban Bullrich from Argentina with one of the newest programs, the Plan Ceibal team from Uruguay, and leaders from Chile and Columbia. All share similar best practices and visions, yet you can still see the local flavor in each country.
This week on 60 Minutes, an article on the homeless; interviewed children in the US living in cars–When asked how important education is, the two children answer “Education is everything.” I hope we are doing everything to help prepare our children for the future—it sure seems like countries in South America are and with great success.
As a State Director of one of the largest social/educational programs in the United States, I am astounded by the work on brining “equity” to every student in the two nations that we have visited. Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was implemented in 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson — His vision was that Title I would provide states, districts and schools funds to be used to bring equitable educational services to those children living in poverty. The use of technology by students in classrooms across the nation wasn’t in the picture at that time. In 2011, funds from Title I may be used to assist in the instruction of low income, low achieving students. BUT – we do not have systemic, systematic plan to ensure that there is equity for the students that Title I serves to bring knowledge through technology to all of our children.
Two nations are working to achieve, what I believe was President’s Johnson’s dream for Title I — to bring educational equity to Low-income, low-ability students.
ACCESS to information,
the logic needed to be successful contributors in the workplace and
to bridge the gap of inequity.
Uruguay and Buenos Aries have instituted programs where every child in their public schools will have a computer and access to the world’s information and resources. The classrooms that we visited engaged students in learning. A classroom of 5 and 6 year old students, were engaged in a lesson on animals and their habitat – students were designing their own animal based on the environmental elements in which the animal would live. What fun in building upon knowledge and creative thinking!
A classroom of older students was engaged in programming a traffic light. They were learning the “logic” of programming. (I will be watching the news to see if there are new traffic light systems in Buenos Aries!)
A commitment to the children of both countries to provide them with the skills needed in the future for the use of technology, is the priority in both nations. A priority we need to pay attention to!
The last morning our group met to debrief our experience and plan for things we could do to keep our conversations going with the people we had met. We all presented our reflections on what we had learned from the experience and what we might take back to promote in our own country.
The conversation boiled down to three major themes:
- national commitment
- empowering students and teachers
For me personally, I was amazed at the political will these countries had to make such bold moves as to provide a laptop to every student in the country. The leadership had come from the top and the message had been communicated so clearly that the teachers, parents and students were all saying the same thing. InUruguay, the leaders of this program had taken a bold move to create their program outside of the bureaucracy of the federal government to get it implemented. In Argentina, Esteban Bullrich, the minister of education in Buenos Aires had given his cell phone number to every teacher in the state and had told them to call him personally if they experienced any problems. We saw this type of courageous leadership everywhere. I look to our own country and wonder if we could ever get the two parties to come together and make something like this happen for our children.
All of these countries spoke of their programs not as a technology program but as a social equalizer and a way for all students to be included in a 21st century education. Their vision was that this program directly addressed the poverty in their countries and was a way to uplift all of their students and give them opportunities that might not otherwise have. These programs were not only having a social impact on their students but were also having an economic impact on their countries. You could see it in the revitalization of their cities. It was the right thing to do!
Both in Uruguay and Argentina, the computers belonged to the students. They did not take them back over the summer to re-image them. The families were responsible for the maintenance of the laptop. There was a definite ownership and buy-in to the program because the families were at the center of the program. The big idea of the program was to provide connectivity to the home therefore empowering all families to learn in new ways. Many of the students taught siblings and parents how to use the computers at home. Teachers were allowed the flexibility to develop their own learning environments and be as creative as they could be without spending enormous amounts of time testing students. These projects are a great leveler of societies around the world. I wonder what will the world be like in a few years when other countries are producing more computer programmers than the US and have developed more innovative projects than we do.
But I think the greatest impression for me was the hope for the future that was expressed by all. There was a great feeling of national pride in this program and that it would improve their country in the future. It reminds me of the early stages of our own one-to-one program and the feeling of excitement and hope that we had. I can only hope that we as a country can stop focusing on short term results and find ways to impove our education system that will provide for long term gains for all of our students.
I plan to continue contact with the wonderful teachers, principals and students that we met, either through email or video conferencing. I want to thank everyone in the delegation for a rich, rewarding experience and the chance to get to know each one of them.
The next morning we went to the offices of the national education ministry and met with various staff members who manage the secdonary schools. That program is called “Connectar Igualdad”. At the high school level, they have distributed over 1.8million netbooks to students. They are building a portal for students, teachers and parents to access content and information online. They have created thousands of learning objects that can be accessed through this portal. It seemd like every district in the US does this too. I am wondering whether we can all collaborate on this content throughout the world so we are not duplicating efforts.
We headed back to the IIPE offices to participate in a few video conferences regardin programs in other Latin American countries. We first spoke with Cristina Escobar of Chile and their “Enlaces” program. Their program is built around mobile labs and the students do not take the computers home. Their program seems small and fairly new so they are realizing some barriers currently as far as connectivity build out and teacher resistance. They are working to get more teachers included in the planning process fo future buy in.
We then connected with Oscar Becerra in Peru. He used to work for the government helping to manage their OLPC program when it first got started, but has since resigned because of a change in political parties. Peru had some definite challenges with their geography and reaching all of the small villages that had little or no electricity or connectivity. Many of the teachers in these small villages barely had a primary education themselves. At the peak of the program, Peru had distributed over 850,000 XOs to the students, but Oscar was not hopeful that the new government would continue to program.
We then spoke with Gabriela Galindez, who manages teacher training efforts in Cordoba, Argentina. They are sturggling with embedding ICT skills into their training and making sure all teachers and principals receive training. She was very passionate about her work and believed that ICT education should be a right. She also pointed to the low graudation rates and the disconnect between what students need in the new global economy and what they receive from schools.
We ended the long day with a panel discussion and dialogue among various dignitaries who had been invited to participate.
Today was a busy day filled with meetings. First we visited the Ministry of Education for the Buenos Aires Government. We learned that the local governments supported the primary schools (K – 7th) and the federal government supported the secondary schools. About 50% of students attend public schools in the big cities. This is the first state that is providing netbooks to all primary students, about 160,000 so far. The name of their program is called Plan Sarmiento.
We heard from the Minister of Education in Buenos Aires, Esteban Bullrich.He was obviously a dynamic leader who believed in this plan to allow all students to participate in 21st century learning. They had studied what Uruguay had done, but needed a plan to fit their needs. They chose laptops for teachers and netbooks for students. We heard from several others about training, support and connections to the business community. One thing I notice about Argentina’s plan is that the parents and family are highly involved in this process too.
As in Uruguay, the laptops belong to the students. They have implemented a WiMax network to provide for Internet access at home. In order to make support easier, they put out a bid for connectivity and hardware to come from the same company. They have also placed an ICT Facilitator in every school to assist the teachers with instruction. They talk of this program as a education program, not a computer program. The minister saw that ICT needed to be at the core of society and that it was not enough to use comptuers once a week. They were worried about the gap that was being created for those who did not have access to technology and took this on as a social inclusion project to make sure that all students were included in the information age.
We left the ministry and went to the International Institute of Education Planning (IIPE – BA). This organization works with all countries that speak Spanish. After a brief meeting, we went to visit another primary school. We would have gone to another campus, but the teachers were on strike that day. There are over 20 teacher unions in Buenos Aires. At the school we were greeted by the principal and we began or tour. This primary school building was in much better shape than the ones we had seen earlier and seemed very organized. The teachers were prepared to show us a lesson and the students seemed willing to show us what they knew.
In a 7th grade science class, we watched the students explain how they programmed a traffic light to work. They had to explain their process to the entire class. Then the teacher asked them to design a traffic light for a blind person and what changes would they have to make in their programming. The techers were also using Web 2.0 tools such as EdModo to work with students.
We visited a 1st grade classroom where students were drawing animals with TUX Paint software. They had to explain parts of the animal and other traits about what they were creating. We ended the visit talking to the principal and other staff members about the program. Teachers are allowed to develop their own lessons so it left open to alot of creativity. They do not focus on testing as much as we do in the US and are focused more on problem-based learning and making sure that all students are included.
Today being Sunday with schools closed, we were given some free time to explore Buenos Aires. Several of us walked to the Recoleta neighborhood and visited the cemetery where Evita Peron Duarte was buried. She is a national icon with many of her images portrayed throughout the city. She is revered by many becuase of her work to help the poor.
We strolled through an art fair near the cemetery and looked at local arts and crafts. Lots of leather, textiles, jewelry and other trinkets. We stopped at a local cafe and sat in the outdoor patio under some large trees to have a snack. It was very relaxing. Reminded me of any outdoor European cafe.
We walked back to the hotel and took a cab to the San Telmo neighborhood. They were having a local street fair with more vendors set up and crowds of people shopping. We found a little shop that sold goods made by the local Indians in Argentina. Beautiful handmade silver and wooden items.
Buenos Aires is an enormous, noisy city, bustling with life. A constrast to the smaller, more laid back Montevideo. It has made me think of the stories I read in earlier days of Latin Amercian authors and poets like Jorge Luis Borges.
On the final days of our trip to South America, each member of the CoSN Senior Delegation took the time to reflect on what thing or things made the greatest impression on them over the past week. Responses can be viewed in the two videos below; the “short” version is approximately 5min long, and the “full” version comes in at about 11min.
The common theme here is social inclusion. In both countries, education officials emphasized their initiatives are not simply computer programs, but instead are social programs. Plan Ceibal in Uruguay and Plan S@rmiento in Buenos Aires were engineered from the beginning to minimize inequality gaps and improve education for all students. There’s the maxim that “A rising tide lifts all boats” – it seems to me these inspirational efforts seek to lift all students, and all families, in their respective programs.
For an overview of the programs, please visit the resources page on the CoSN site.
I know that I am not alone in thinking of this trip as being both transformational and inspirational. I’m looking forward to reading final blog posts from all the delegates I have come to know over the past seven days, and I’m even more eager to see where we go from here!