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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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RE: Standard of living
By GourdFreeMan on 10/19/2009 9:35:03 PM , Rating: 5
While there are countries interested in the OLPC program that might be vulnerable to such concerns, did you ever stop to notice the article was about Uruguay? A visit to Wikipedia, the CIA Factbook, or the UN website would have revealed to you that Uruguay is a major agricultural exporter with a low malnutrition rate compared to other developing countries, and sometimes faces economic challenges and unemployment when there is a worldwide slump in agricultural demand. I think investment in education, even on something as unproven as bringing laptops into the classroom, is the smart move as it can potentially lead to a diversification of a nation's economy.

Not every developing nation faces the same challenges. If you don't bother to do the research first, your aid can be as helpful as a glass full of water to a drowning man.

RE: Standard of living
By CityZen on 10/19/2009 11:37:19 PM , Rating: 2
Finally!!! Someone who takes the time to find out a thing or two (or three :) ) before writing a comment.
Thank you, GourdFreeMan
There is another piece of information that's very relevant but hasn't been mentioned: software exports are becoming increasingly important in Uruguay. The country's software exports reached 100 million $ in 2005, and that's for a country of just 3 million people. Those 100 m $ represented 2% of Uruguay's total exports. To give you some context, the leading countries in the world in that area, Ireland and India, have software exports that account for 8-10% of their total exports.
In short, this investment by Uruguay of $ 98 million in OLPC netbooks for students represents less than a year of software exports of the country. Not bad.

"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch

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