Print 31 comment(s) - last by OLPCXOMAN.. on Nov 1 at 4:02 PM

Government program distributes laptops to almost 400,000 students

Computer literacy is an important aspect of education, but may seem out of reach for many people around the world due to hardware costs. The OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project has sought to develop and distribute a low-cost and rugged computer to children around the world in a bid to raise global standards of living. That includes children living in poverty in the United States.

The government of Uruguay was very enthusiastic about the project, and created "Plan Ceibal" (Education Connect) to fund and distribute XO-1 OLPC laptops to every state-funded elementary school in the country.  Uruguay was the first country to place a full order for XO-1 laptops, with an initial 100,000 order in October 2007. It was also the first to deploy them in a non-pilot project just two months later.

Over the last two years, 18,000 teachers have distributed 380,000 laptops to every student between the ages of six and twelve. Approximately 70% of the XO-1 laptops handed out by the government were given to children who did not have computers at home.

The original goal of the OLPC project was to develop a $100 laptop, but that proved out of reach. The government of Uruguay states that it has spent $260 per child, which includes the costs of maintenance, equipment repairs, training for the teachers and internet connections. Annual maintenance costs are around $21 per child.

Uruguay was the first country in Latin America to provide free compulsory schooling for its population, and believes that participation in the OLPC project will help to raise standards of living even more quickly. The total cost so far represents less than 5% of the country's education budget.

"This is not simply the handing out of laptops or an education program. It is a program which seeks to reduce the gap between the digital world and the world of knowledge," stated Miguel Brechner, the director of Plan Ceibal.

The laptops in Uruguay use the Linux operating system with a user interface named "Sugar". Detractors have criticized the lack of a Windows operating system, stating that it is needed in order to created marketable computer skills. However, Windows has only been available in XO-1 laptops since late last year.

Insufficient electrical and internet infrastructure are just some of the challenges that Project Ceibal has faced. Some rural areas have required the deployment of solar power generators, while other areas still lack Internet connections. The situation is similar in other countries like Peru, which has deployed almost 300,000 XO-1 laptops.

Those aren't the only problems facing students eager to use their computers. Insufficient teacher education has meant that some students are learning to use computers at the same time as their teachers. The government training program only takes a single day to complete. Some older teachers have shunned the laptops, preferring to stick to older methods of teaching rather than appearing incompetent in front of their pupils.

That may explain why other countries have been hesitant to adopt OLPC laptops in large scale national programs. Only Uruguay, Peru, Columbia, India, and Rwanda have or are planning OLPC adoption programs to more than 100,000 students. However, there are smaller scale or pilot projects in more than two dozen countries.

"It's a culture shock scenario; many countries are simply too scared to put it into practice," explains Brechner.

Since every primary school student now has a laptop, the government of Uruguay is now considering an expansion program to include children in kindergarten and those in secondary schools that do not yet have a laptop.

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RE: People and technology...
By FITCamaro on 10/19/2009 3:46:52 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah cause that'll help kids learn.....

Laptops are a tool, not an instant fix for education. We invented the atom bomb and designed the equipment for Apollo without laptops(and barely even computers). What makes you think kids today need laptops to learn far more basic concepts when clearly those people were capable of gaining the knowledge to do what they did without them?

Laptops in schools are a distraction, nothing more. If you want kids to learn, parents are going to have to step and and make them. No amount of money is going to make up for a parent who isn't around or who doesn't stress the importance of an education.

RE: People and technology...
By ShaolinSoccer on 10/19/2009 5:02:47 PM , Rating: 3
I don't know what is installed on these laptops but if they had an encyclopedia and other basic tools, like a calculator that can convert anything, it would be invaluable. They should also put exercises in it, like math exercises for each grade level. Some kids would go home and never stop learning. They would excel in their classrooms. How can that be a bad thing?

RE: People and technology...
By NA1NSXR on 10/19/2009 10:28:03 PM , Rating: 2
You are in school to learn how to do that stuff by hand. Its so annoying to see kids today so feeble minded that they reach for the calculator every time its time to do math.

RE: People and technology...
By Noya on 10/20/2009 2:09:29 AM , Rating: 1
Some kids would go home and never stop learning. They would excel in their classrooms. How can that be a bad thing?

Exactly. We all know the public school system is a joke and holds MANY children back from getting the education they need.

I recall not being challenged until high school (honors and AP classed) and my niece is the same way.

She's in 2nd grade and her reading/math skills place her at a 6th grade level. There's been talk of some TAG programs but nothing seems to be happening with that do to no funding. She tells me her teach has her helping all the "normal" kids in her class. WTF is that? She's so far ahead of them that she's tutoring them?

She has so much potential (just as many of us did as children) and I hate to see it being wasted by the public school system.

RE: People and technology...
By Hardin on 10/20/2009 8:48:55 AM , Rating: 2
You don't need a calculator in primary school. You're supposed to be able to do math on your own. Laptops are a useless at this level of schooling. Heck I'm a senior in college and laptops have never been anything more than a distraction in any class other than a computer class.

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