What can we learn from…South America?by Bailey Mitchell 1 Comment January 27, 2012
This past November, I had the opportunity to be part of the Senior Consortium for School Networking Delegation to Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina. CoSN is the premier professional association for school district technology leaders. CoSN’s mission is to empower educational leaders to leverage technology to realize engaging learning environments. I currently serve on the CoSN Board of Directors as chair.
The delegation served to engage in a global conversation focused on the strategic uses of technology for the improvement of teaching and learning in K-12 schools. We networked with key policy makers and educators in both Uruguay and Argentina that will provided valuable insight into the preparation of our students for the world beyond the classroom.
Uruguay’s Plan Ceibal
Our delegation group had the opportunity to visit a school where a highly specialized laptop called the “XO” was issued to each student powered by a school-wide (restricted) WiFi System. The units were Internet enabled and operate on a closed wireless network that extends to some homes via community wireless access points strategically placed across the country e.g. low income neighborhoods, parks, community gathering places and around the edges of the school itself.
- The courage to “just do it” across the entire country;
- Autonomous control of the project by a governance structure called “Plan Ceibal”
- The new learning opportunities that have been afforded every student as a result of ubiquitous access.
As we talked with the school’s principal and the part time instructional technology specialists offered through the “Plan Ceibal,” you truly sensed the national pride and passion to enable their students to engage as computer literate, globally connected learners. The open source programs on the XO unit are supported to elicit creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and enhanced communication. The autonomous control of the initiative seemingly eliminates the bureaucracy that would normally throttle a country-wide education network. And finally, the determination since 2007 to sustain the Plan Ceibal initiative with needed funding and the development of a completely digital curriculum is impressive.
I am left wondering if we (United States) could ever come together like Plan Ceibal of Uruguay to create a complex national learning network on this scale.
1:1 in Buenos Aires
The city of Buenos Aires (referred to the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires Government) has deployed a ruggedized netbook-class laptop for every child and provided a closed network via a “WiMax” infrastructure that covers the entire city, effectively serving as a 24/7 home-school connection for ubiquitous student access.
The Ministry of Education’s department, Educ.AR, has assembled an extensive system of digital content that is integral to the laptop program. The learning network is served by a portal called “Programa Conectar Igualdad.com.ar” that serves as learning object repository of differentiated learning objects for all curriculum areas and exceptional children needs. This project is supported by a collaborative of ministries (Infrastructure, Education, Research, etc.) that have come together to join needed resources to enable the portal. Since the WiMax infrastructure is fairly limited, approximately 1-4MB per school, the city has deployed servers at each school for content delivery.
Our school visit to an elementary school showed enthusiastic adoption for this student resource. Each school has an education technology support person that is designated to work with teachers on integration and the creation of additional content for the Conectar Igualdad portal. Since the laptop is actually issued to the student in a quasi-ownership manner, the program is often talked about as a social program for the city, expanding opportunities to the home and the student’s family where experience with a computer and access to the Internet is a “first” in many cases.
The city has its admitted challenges with low teacher pay (avg. $1,200 per month), difficult teacher retention, 17 different teacher unions, varying teacher experience and expectations for professional learning and in some cases, hostility to teachers by parents. The Minister of Education, Esteban Bullrich, has worked tirelessly to improve these conditions and raise expectations for technology literacy among teacher and administrative staff. He has offered his personal cell phone to every teacher in the event they have a concern that cannot be resolved or they feel threatened in any way to accelerate resolution. From the school visits and conversations with education leadership for the city, it is clear that a “team” approach of unprecedented inter-agency cooperation has been deployed and sustained to support the city’s 1-to-1 initiative.
Categories: Leadership, PlanningTags: 1:1, argentina, COSN, education, funding, laptop, netbook, strategic plan, students, technology, uruguay, web, wimax