Many talks at the recent LABCI conference in Asuncion, Paraguay and Southern Cone BrazTESOL in Curitiba, Brazil focused on technology (as so many do in conferences, nowadays). Many of them seemed to be lists of exciting new apps and machines, a glittering cornucopia of possibility which can, occasionally, become indigestible!! The ones I enjoyed most, however, were either polemical (the speaker was pushing a ‘line’) of, even more enticingly, showed examples of students’ technology-based work. It is fantastic what students can do with the right kind of teacher pushing them forward. But by the time I got to the LABCI conference in Asuncion (and subsequently followed many sessions from Southern Cone BrazTESOL on Twitter), I had been in Uruguay.
And the challenges, limits and excitements of the technology revolution that everyone talks about are bought into sharp focus for me by the Plan Ceibal, the amazing ‘One-laptop-per-child’ achievement of the Uruguayan government and Nicholas Negroponte (you can see his TED talk about it here). The result is that every kid in Uruguay has one of the little green machines (or blue for secondary students). As you can from the photograph, they are for children’s hands, not adults’.
The next part of the plan is that no child should be more than 300 yards from free broadband (and boy, I get mad that there are hotels around the world who charge ridiculous prices for a service that should be free?!! But I digress)
The motive behind Plan Ceibal is about as idealistic as it can get, namely that every child should have the same access to information and possibility as any of his or her contemporaries, no matter what social class or socio economic group they come from. In one leap, the argument might go, many of society’s inequalities could be erased `(exaggeration, i know, but you get the point)
The results? Well many anecdotal accounts I was given on my recent visit to Montevideo talk of children in playgrounds happily chatting away on their machines, of a genuine excitement and mejoramiento of poorer kids’ access to the world that their richer counterparts take for granted. Laptopped children take their machines into their homes too so the whole family, potentially, gets the benefit..
Other reports suggest that the way the laptops are being used depends crucially on the teachers, some of whom are reluctant to get involved, while others, on the contrary, have embraced the challenge with startlingly good results. For those of you who read Spanish, there are reports here, though the commentator Fernando de la Rosa adds his questioning voice in a technology + ethics’ kind of blog that he has.
Other countries in the region are trying to emulate Uruguay’s plan, sometimes in specific areas, but rarely with the total country coverage that is easier for a small country like Uruguay to achieve. Once again reports are sketchy, with at least one person telling me of school cupboards full of stacks of laptops waiting to be handed out and activated.
What is your reaction to this, technophile or technophobe? Are there still technophobes? My questions I guess are:
1 Is access to technology and the Internet a genuine destroyer of inequality?
2 What will/do/should children do with a laptop once they are given it?
3 What programmes would you develop for s countrywide scheme like this?
4 Or perhaps a better question (?) what should educators get the children to DO with computers ? Just let them find their own way – with some guidance – as Sugata Mitra seems to suggest – he is the ‘Hole in the wall’, experimenter, who put a computer in a wall in an Indian street to see what would happen, as you probably know. You can watch a TED talk of his here.
5 Are laptops what children should have anyway? Or will they rapidly become obsolete in the new mobile world?
(Oh, and for the record, I’m a paid-up technophile. I wrote this blog entry with a bluetooth keyboard propped up on a guitar case, while my iPad sat on a case a few feet away and we stood helplessly in an airport queue in Montevideo waiting to hear if we would be allowed to check in for an Iberia flight to Madrid…we weren’t, as it happens, but that all seems a long time ago now)