CEIBAL's Success - Laptops in Backpacks in Uruguay

I've been over at the IDB all morning, for a series of seminars on the impact of ICTs in education. I'll report on this more in the coming days, but for now:

VazquezPresident Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay gave the keynote this morning, talking about CEIBAL, the very successful national laptops-in-backpacks program he has overseen. He argued that the introduction of technology into education constitutes nothing less than a revolution-- "the most profound and beautiful of revolutions." It's a big word to use in Latin America, but seems appropriate. 

Introducing laptops to every student and teacher in the country is not just a revolution of teaching and learning, he said, but a social revolution as well.  Students now have access to networks that connect everyone-- from the wealthy kids in Montevideo to the 20% of children who live in poverty around the country.  The laptops guarantee nothing, but they're a tool-- for learning, for communication, and for equality-- and they're helping create better educated citizens, who in turn make for a stronger, wealthier country.

Miguel Brechner, President of the Uruguay Technology Laboratory, has been the man in charge of CEIBAL during its three-year rollout.  He followed Vázquez in a technical seminar with a review of the costs and impacts of the program.  He echoed the point made by Marcelo Cabrol of the IDB that this technology is a fundameOLPCntally disruptive innovation, and one that requires vast reorganization of the educational system. Uruguay has met that challenged with a comprehensive rollout of the program over three years, introducing the machines gradually, and coupling them with teacher training and appropriate software.

Nonetheless, Brechner offered an accounting that calculated the cost of the program at about $276 per machine over four years.  This includes the major costs of hardware and connectivity, and many minor costs including service, software, and content.  While no broad academic studies on the impact of the program have yet been done, observational and anecdotal evidence suggests that the machines have been well incorporated by teachers into their lessons, and they have already pushed up attendance and academic achievement.

There's been a lot of negative chatter about OLPC lately, some of it well-grounded.  The program has hit some hurdles, and failed to meet some optimistic projections.  Still, the theory is sound: Understanding technology and having access to the worldwide network through devices like laptops and mobile phones will be an essential part of a child's success in the 21st century, and needs to be introduced to the classroom.  Hats off to Uruguay for pulling it off-- swiftly, completely, affordably and, it seems, successfully.