World Bank’s Edublog has a post up about an incredibly ambitious educational technology program in Uruguay. Under Plan Ceibal, all students in Uruguayan primary schools (and soon high school students, as well) receive free laptops as part of their public school education. Even better, the schools take steps to ensure that the new technology is put to good use:
Ceibal is about more than just ‘free laptops for kids’ [...].Â There is a complementary educational television channel. Schools serve as centers for free community wi-fi, and free connectivity has been introduced in hundreds of municipal centers around the country as well.Â There are free local training programs for parents and community members on how to use the equipment.”
Giving laptops to students is a great first step in broadening their educational opportunities, but the free wi-fi and added connectivity benefit the communities that the schools are a part of, as well. Also striking is the way the plan was implemented, with an emphasis on areas where educational improvements were most needed:
Notably, and tellingly, Plan Ceibal rolled out first in rural and poor communities, with schools in theÂ capital city of Montevideo reached only in the final stage of deployment.Â This stands in stark contrast to the way educational technologies make their way into schools and communities pretty much everywhere else in the world, where urban population centers and wealthy communities are typically first in line [...].”
What’s awesome about this program is that it’s aimed at a central challenge in improving education worldwide. Education is about access, and something as simple as connecting students to the internet could lead to incredible gains, especially in places where schools are strapped for resources, or where schools barely exist at all. This is one problem we try to address with our GMAT prep and LSAT prep courses; since all the teaching is online, we can reach students who may not have access to the test centers that students in major U.S. cities take for granted.
Unequipped classrooms, dearths of textbooks, the costs of school supplies — all these obstacles can be made less pressing by insisting that connectivity is a basic educational requirement. Granted, laptop programs are not miracle cures. There’s a key difference between information and education. If there weren’t, we could all quit school and just rely on Wikipedia.
For technology to better primary and high school education, teachers have to be brought on board with every advance that is made, parents have to be able to follow what their kids are learning, and students have to be shown ways to explore, filter, and evaluate the vast body of knowledge (and junk) they encounter online.
Ceibal is exciting, though, because it’s applying a simple mission on a massive scale. The futures of education and technology are intertwined. As learning evolves, students deserve the resources to keep up.