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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
  • equity
  • 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. 

CoSN Delegation

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Laura Serra, ICT Manager, Ministry of Education of Argentina

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.

Oscar Becerra - video conference with Peru

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.

Gabriela Galindez

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.

Esteban Bullrich, Minister of Education, Buenos AiresWe 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.

Evita

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.

Up very early the next morning to board our bus that took us to the bus station to board the ferry bus, Buquebus. Drove two and a half hours on the bus to get to the ferry at Colonia, Uruguay. The trip looked like any backroad in Texas. Wish we had had the time to look around there as it was beautiful countryside. Waited at the station for over an hour to board the ferry. The ferry boat ride took another hour, then got our luggage and took another bus that was to take us to our hotel. We got there to quickly drop off our bags a head to lunch.

"The Pink House" where Evita spoke from the balcony

After lunch the bus took us on a three hour tour of the city so we could get the lay of the land in this city of over 3 million people. It reminds me a lot of New York city. Finally, four buses and a ferry later, we arrived at our hotel around 6:00 pm to wash off the dirt from the long day.

We were up early the next morning with a quick breakfast and on to the bus. We had to divide up into two groups as we were scheduled to go to two different schools. Our group was headed to Benito Juarez Elementary School.

Students learning to dance at Benito Juarez Elementary

We arrived at the school that was in the middle of a seemingly middle class neighborhood. From the huge patio at the front of the school, we were greeted by sounds of music and saw a class of students learning to dance with their PE teacher.

We watched for awhile until the principal was able to come out a greet us. She told us that this was a very busy day. Some of the students were taking an examination and other classes were preparing for a school play.

We chatted with several students on the playground and I asked them if they would like to collaborate on projects with some students in the United States. They beamed at the thought of it. The principal took us to their computer lab so they could tell us some things about the program before we went to classrooms. They are very proud of what the program has to offer, but there are still many challenges they face.

5th grade science class

We then went to any classroom we wanted to visit. Some students were waiting in costume ready to go to the play. Others were working on schoolwork. I had the opportunity to talk with some students and teachers about what they were doing with their laptops. The students were excited about using the laptops and the teachers had found ways to extend the use beyond the limited training they had received. Even a parent talked to us about the possibilities this program was providing to the students.

What struck me the most about the school was that even though they did not have a secretary, a janitor or even a library in the school, there was great hope that this program was going to have a long term impact on their students and their country.

Plan Ceibal at the Tech Laboratory of Uruguay

We left the school to meet again with more members of Plan Ceibal at the Tech Lab of Uruguay where Plan Ceibal started. It was very interesting how they described that the plan was started from an organization outside of the Ministry of Education so they could bypass all of the bureaucracy and get things moving forward quickly.

 

It is amazing to me that in 2 years that had rolled out laptops to all elementary schools in the country and figured out support along the way. They created drop off centers throughout the city for families to take their laptops in for repairs.

 

Their implementation has not been without problems, but they work together to solve them. It was a bold plan that worked because they had the political will to make it happen.

After 15 hours on a plane, with no sleep during the overnight flight, our tour group arrived at the airport in Montevideo. About 17 individuals, most of whom I did not know before this trip, were about to embark upon a journey of a lifetime. As we waited for all of the group to snake their way through the customs line, we met our guide, Augustina. We had a brief time to meet some of the people in the group before we headed out on the bus.

After a quick change at the hotel, we met to get an overview of Plan Ceibal from Laura Motta, a member of the Teacher Board of Education. I found out that 80% of the students attend public schools in Uruguay. I am not sure of the same stats in the US, but I can tell already that Uruguay really values education for all children. But Laura also told us that only 1/3 of their students finish secondary education. That was also startling to me, yet I compare that to our dismal success rate of high school graduates in the US. What is it about high school all over the world that we are doing wrong?

We then took a bus to the US Embassy and met several people who have worked with the Uruguyan education ministry. The US has helped provide funding for education in Uruguay and some technical assistance for Plan Ceibal.

 

We took the bus again to the Ministry of Education where we met with several people who had been instrumental in getting Plan Ceibal off the ground. You can tell that there is a great national pride about this project, as they call it a “social plan” to help transform their country and provide for economic development. 

 

After a dialogue with the ministry, we went to eat at a local restaurant that provided us with a glimpse of Uruguayan cuisine. Finally we went back to the hotel and at long last I was able to put my head on a pillow! Sleep came very quickly!