One-to-one computing in Latin America & the Caribbean

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unoA recent paper from Eugenio Severin and Christine Capota of the Inter-american Development Bank (IDB) surveys an emerging set of initiatives seeking to provide children with their own educational computing devices. While much of the popular consideration of so-called "1-to-1 computing programs" has focused on programs in the United States, Canada, Western Europe and Australia, One-to-One Laptop Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean: Panorama and Perspectives provides a useful primer for English-speaking audiences on what is happening in middle and low income countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad & Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela.  (There is of course a Spanish version available as well.)

While some of these cases are becoming better known globally -- most notably those of Uruguay and Peru, where the IDB has not coincidentally been quite active -- I expect many people from other parts of the world will be surprised to learn about the extent of activity in the region. Indeed, a lot is happening in the region.  While the report does not aim to be comprehensive (indeed, ministry of education officials in a few Caribbean island nations have already noted that their 1-to-1 pilot initiatives are not included in the survey, and those knowledgeable about the field may note that there are, for example, programs from U.S. states that are not listed here), it does consolidate for the first time related regional information in one place for easy reference, while noting that "promising in concept, one-to-one initiatives thus far have had little implementation time and varying results".

While "one-to-one" may be new to many of the surveyed countries in Latin America, initiatives of this sort first started appearing about 25 years in the United States and Australia, and are increasingly widespread across Europe. (I have on my desk right now a copy of "One Computer for Every Teacher and Every Student", one of the first set of papers from the influential Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) project, which was published back in 1987!) When Severin and Capota state that "consistency between the objectives proposed and the achievements evaluated has not been a strength of many existing One-to-One projects" in Latin America, they are flagging a challenge that has bedeviled many researchers interested in this topic for the past two decades.

Beyond the short useful sketches of individual country initiatives in Latin America, many of which utilize either the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO device or the Intel Classmate, Severin and Capota are well aware of the lessons from one-to-one programs in other parts of the world and provide a strong reminder that, whatever the educational technology approach du jour,

There is no silver bullet in education; in this sense, technology is no different from other learning interventions. The distribution of equipment alone will not have any effect on learning outcomes, unless it is considered as part of comprehensive reform processes, focusing on learning and explicitly proposes the change of traditional educational practices.

Some have argued that this type of reminder should be self-evident. A criticism of this sort was levelled in some quarters about last year's Worst Practice in ICT Use in Education post on the EduTech blog, for example, which identified "dump hardware in schools, hope for magic to happen" as "the classic example of worst practice in ICT use in education" which unfortunately "shows no sign of disppearing soon". That such statements are easy to make doesn't mean that the related 'solutions' can be easy to implement.  Far from it, as some on-going experiences suggest.

The authors conclude by stating that

One-to-One models require much more than purchasing and distributing equipment to students. Their execution requires a long-term commitment to the conditions and components necessary to make them an integral part of education systems. Technology tends to augment pre-existing strengths and weaknesses. Rather than having an additive effect, the incorporation of laptops in schools often has a multiplicative effect. For instance, if a strength of a school lies in productive use of classroom time, then laptops will likely augment already productive classrooms. If a weakness of a school lies in unstructured or unproductive use of time in the classroom, then children are more likely to use laptops as an unproductive tool for distraction.

(If indeed, I may add, they use them at all.)

More and related information:

Note: The image ("uno") at the top of this blog post comes from Ecelan via Wikimedia Commons and is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.


Michael Trucano

Visiting Fellow, Brookings, and Global Lead for Innovation in Education, World Bank

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