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