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2009 CoSN Senior Delegation

First Day of CoSN Work in Portugal

Gavin Dykes, Programme Director – Education World Forum
opens the CosN International Delegation to Portugal challenging the delegation to think differently about learning.

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Plan Ceibal is a big bet by a relatively poor country that giving a computer to every child can provide social equity across the country. It is based on a big idea…frankly, the sort of big investment we used to think of as American ‘can-do ism’. It is an impressive effort.

On the trip I happen to be reading Tom Friedman & Michael Mandelbaum’s new book, “That Used to be US”. Boy does the book resonate with me, especially as I consider the commitment, vision and…well…belief that education is the key to future prosperity.

How can they really afford the cost? The total cost of the effort is $400 US over 4 years per child, or $8 per mo per child. They have negotiated a price of $188 US price of laptop devices they have a new tender out for another 100k units. Ceibal’s budget represents 5% of the country’s total education budget and less than .15 of GDP. So, the numbers seem to work.

By why can 1-to-1 happen in Uruguay when it isn’t happening in most US school systems? It comes down to one key thing: political will. In Uruguay the President of the country had a vision (and now his successor has continued the commitment). Interestingly, the public is overwhelmingly supportive of this social inclusion strategy.

I wish the reporter from the New York Times who has been running a front-page critical series on why technology isn’t worth the investment in education would get on a plane to Montevideo.

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that Plan Ceibal has been a perfectly executed effort and everything envisioned is currently reality. But, it is clear this is about making a big commitment to social inclusion and, increasingly, a new vision for learning today.

It is time for such a conversion in the US with our policymakers, media and the public. Can we afford NOT to make this sort of investment in a more just and equitable American society?

I am not saying we should import precisely this model for the US…in fact, I suspect that leveraging student owned devices (“bring your own technology” efforts) is more likely to scale in N. America if matched with a commitment to ensure equity for those that cannot afford and do not have technology. But if we wait until we have all the answers, we will fall further behind while others around the world are making serious investments in their educational systems.