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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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Priorities
By PrinceGaz on 10/19/2009 7:29:43 PM , Rating: 0
Given that some areas these laptops were sent to not only didn't have net access, but also no reliable electricity source, shouldn't they have sorted that out first?

I don't know the exact situation in those South American countries, but basic infrastructure like clean water (and sewerage systems), enough food to feed the populace, and then electricity, gas, telecoms etc, should come before blowing billions on laptop computers for kids.




RE: Priorities
By Pakman333 on 10/19/2009 8:47:13 PM , Rating: 2
Billions? Try $76 million. Not too bad for whole country.


RE: Priorities
By GourdFreeMan on 10/19/2009 9:56:02 PM , Rating: 3
This UN report: http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/hdr_20072008_en_indic...
should allay most of your concerns. Note that in the case of Uruguay the malnutrition rates, availability of sanitation and "improved water sources" are on par with European countries, while infant mortality rates, unemployment, internet access and patents per million people are far worse than European standards.

Without domestic educated workers with training in science and technology, infrastructure ependitures won't have a multiplicative effect on local economies.


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