By Maria Aguirre
The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program seeks to improve learning in the poorest regions of the world by providing children with computers for use at both school and home. Since its start, the program has been implemented in 36 countries and has distributed more than 2 million laptops. In Latin America, the initiative began in the last decade, making the largest investment in Peru. However, recent research conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) concluded that the OLPC initiative in this country failed to increase student performance in Math and Language. This post aims to discuss these results and to include analysis from other sources in order to promote a healthy discussion on this topic.
Recently a working paper by the IDB assessed the OLPC program in Peru, the country leading such initiatives in the region. With a tone of social inclusion, this initiative sought to primarily benefit rural, underprivileged communities. Since its inception, nearly a million laptops have been delivered to the students. However, the results according to this research are not encouraging. The document’s objective was to expose the lack of empirical evidence about the effects of ICT programs. The document evaluated the impacts after 15 months of implementation of the program, using a randomized control trial. The main result indicates an increase in the number of computers per student; yet, it finds no evidence of improvements in the enrollment or test scores in Math and Language.
Oscar Becerra, the person who was in charge of implementing the OLPC program from the Peruvian Ministry of Education, says in an article that “the effect is neither magic nor fast” but “it is a combination of interventions that will have long-term effects”. Becerra also points out that Peru usually suffers from the “vicious tradition” among politicians to stop their predecessors’ initiatives and start something new, regardless of the previous project’s success; yet, this was successfully prevented in the case of the OLPC program. Moreover, according to the document, the only positive result reflects a significant change in the development of cognitive skills, According to a separate blog entry posted by the IDB is a result entirely overlooked by the IDB study.
According to the World Bank blog one of the reasons why this happens -and by “this” I mean getting bad results from an initiative expected to be positive- is because of the way the program is being evaluated. This blog entry states that use of standardized tests instead of using tests developed by experts, can account for very different results. In addition, it states that “change doesn’t come unless you make real changes”; which means that change usually does not happen by a single discrete intervention. According this blog “dump hardware in schools, hope for magic to happen” is the worst practice of ICT use in education. Moreover, The Economist article follow the hypothesis that children learn much faster than teachers, and that teachers are not being prepared enough to keep it up with the technological change. Likewise, the article posted by the IDB indicates that because the OLPC program did not included specific interventions to integrate laptop use into the curriculum, an actual change in learning was not to happen.
Just as a concluding comment, I would like to say that yes, ICT use in education should be controlled, organized and promoted with support from the government and the school itself. Both teachers and students working together with this initiative that certainly DOES facilitate and promote learning. Is just a tool, but if used properly it should lead to wonderful results!
Error message, The Economist on April 2012. http://goo.gl/msMLw
Evaluating One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) in Peru, EduTech World Bank Blog on March 2012. http://goo.gl/Gd3Ha
Study: OLPC Fails Students as a Tool for Education, PC Magazine on April 2012. http://goo.gl/0khXU
One Laptop per Child program not improving math or language test scores, according to study; The Verge on April 2012. http://goo.gl/5WzPh
And the jury is back: One Laptop per Child is not enough, Inter-American Development Bank on March 2012. http://goo.gl/u6fv8
Oscar Becerra on OLPC Peru’s Long-Term Impact. EduTech Debate, on March 2012. http://goo.gl/sUKJT
Link to the IDB document: http://goo.gl/hLRsd
OLPC in Peru: http://goo.gl/fcse0
By: Maria Aguirre
It’s hard to start a blog about a topic that I find so delicate to talk about, because it directly affects about 12 million Cubans. This blog aims to discuss internet censorship in Cuba and its effects on education. Cuba is a country with one of the highest levels of educational attainment in the world. Education is provided nationally, for free by the socialist government. Conversely, students and the rest of the Cuban citizens have been constantly and increasingly censored in their internet access. So, whether you’re a college student, a teenager, a young or old person, whether you live in the U.S. or in Australia, consider the possible impacts of limited access to information (e.g., in politics, news, or entertainment). Would you be a different student? Would you think the same as you do know about government agencies, historical characters, or current events? I invite you to read my blog reflect as I elaborate on this and other related topics.
Cuba is a beautiful Caribbean country of about 12 million people. Under a dictatorship of nearly five decades, Cuba remains as a socialist state. All the services and products, including education, are supplied by the government. And although highly criticized by the international arena, Cuba has a literacy rate of 99.8% (for population aged 15-24 years. Source: MDGs indicators). Yet, Cuban students and the general population are unhappy with the extensive internet censorship that the government has been applying since internet was introduced in the country. So may seem like an everyday normal thing to us in the US, like sending emails, googling, or even tweetting, is a privileged activity for ordinary Cuban citizens. Control is not limited to internet usage, but also the access, purchase or leasing of computers. This is manifested in the staggeringly low ratio: only 3.3 per 100 people own a computer, one of the lowest levels in the world.
Although the government is more lenient in providing access to information for educational purposes -allowing the use of certain computers and programs- others view this “special” availability as a tool to maintain social control over the available knowledge. Under this scheme, Cuba has become one of the most backward countries in internet usage with less than 2 percent of its population online. This web protectionism is based on the governmental excuse to ensure that the internet will not be used in a revolutionary way. For this reason, the authorities have a system of control and surveillance, which to the present day remains an enigma to the Cubans and to the rest of the world, because nobody knows exactly how this monitoring is carried out. This uncertainty and state control promotes nothing but a massive state of alert and fear for the Cuban cyber users. Yet, this hegemonic control of the internet in Cuba is double-sided. First, tourists in Cuba have a greater opportunity to use internet, being able to use the “international” less-censored sites available in their hotels. And second, because among Cubans there is a social class that has privileged internet access from their homes; they enjoy less control and surveillance, because they are thought not to represent any political risk. This particular division in the internet usage along with a centralized management of power has led to a repeated censorship, intimidating and stigmatizing people who think differently in Cuba.
Yoani Sanchez, is a 35-year-old mother, a wife, a philologist, a writer, a blogger, and considered as many, a leader in terms of internet censorship in Cuba. She has asked for hackers worldwide to help 12 million Cubans that are in need of the free usage of internet (Watch interview in Spanish). Ms. Sanchez tries to describe how her generation remains in the dark; so close, yet so far from the light of information and knowledge freedom. What the government calls “cyber-garbage” a group of students, journalists, and ordinary people fight for the same purpose. Remarkably, this resistance has won important small victories: Ms. Sanchez has been recognized by the former President Jimmy Carter, President Obama, and in 2008 by the Time magazine who included her in the list of 100 most influential people in the world.
However, along these small victories, the government counters attacks with a constant censoring of online content containing what they interpret as subversive and revolutionary words. This constant surveillance, in Ms. Sanchez’s words, leads to the Cubans feeling “… as if we’re abandoned and motionless by the side of the expressway, with ever faster and speeding kilobytes unattainable to us”. While the government maintains the position that internet usage is limited to academics, students and government workers, I ask, is it really that helping to educational purposes? I tend to think that they might be biased to restrict knowledge and what is taught. Especially if the students do not have access –as almost the rest of the world does- to one source that can be really helpful. Such questions lead me to think that in reality, the government does limits the type of knowledge available to educational motives, because the internet can be perceived as a threat to destroy the system. This protectionism is reflected in “in vitro versions of Facebook or Wikipedia style sites to schools and workplaces”; to achieve this, the government spends thousands of dollars to create controlled programs and interfaces for local use.
After an extensive search in the web, in both local and alternative sources, I can say that few media outlets are covering this topic: internet censorship and education in Cuba. After writing this blog I think that the question remains current, because although Cuba has an almost ideal literacy rates, there isn’t a test that asks the students about current issues, different perspectives or alternative thinking, which can really nurturing to the process of building critical skills. The truth is hardly ever matter of one and only one thing, and is often misinterpreted from analyzing when only perspective is considered. Then, do Cuban students (and the Cuban general population) have the right to know the other side of the coin? I think they do!
Sources and Footnotes:
By Maria Aguirre
What is Enlaces?
Enlaces is an ICT program first introduced in 1992 by the Ministry of Education of Chile. First as a pilot, and then as a national educational program in Chile, its main objective was to improve the access to technology in public schools. In that sense it aimed to reduce the existent gap between the technological services that students from private and public schools get. The program was thought to motivate not only students from under-resourced schools, but to encourage teachers to promote learning in “modern” ways. In the video, the program Enlaces is introduced, portraying how fourth graders are highly motivated by the positive effects of ICT in their learning processes. Teachers also have the opportunity to describe how students’ examinations have improved over time, and what other positive effects are noticeable in their schools, since the program has been introduced..
Enlaces and its impacts over education in Chile
Chile is a middle-income country with impressive socioeconomic indicators if compared with its regional peers. In the educative field they were the pioneers of introducing ICTs as a tool for learning. A pilot which rapidly grew into a national program was set to create technological access to students from public schools as a way to diminish the gap from those of private, more privileged schools.
In 2008, at least 87% of the school body in Chile had access to ICT thanks to this initiative; with an expected ratio of 10 students per computer (2010), one of the most crucial aspects of Enlaces is its appropriate educational content which includes the Chilean curriculum –supported by the state educational portal Educarchile-.
Among the most important impacts of the introduction of ICTs in Chilean education, according to Enlaces, is the increasing awareness “of the importance of ICT in education” and the new competencies developed by the students which are more related to “XXI century skills”. Under a functionalist point of view, Chile is doing a good job by seeking for its students a broader chance to get timely-appropriate skills by means of the use of ICTs. Functionalism perceives education as a way in which students, no matter their backgrounds or their strata, can achieve the same opportunities than their more privileged peers. Moreover, as students get the chance to improve their learning process, they are expected to improve their academic records and do better on standards examinations. This ultimately leads to a meritocratic-based system, in which all the students have the same opportunities. Even though there are many contradictors to this theory –like conflict theory-, I consider that in this case ICTs are actually affecting in a positive way the range of possibilities and options that a public school student has.. If their access to ICTs were to be neglected, their motivation and their contact with a wider range of information would decline, ultimately affecting their possibilities to succeed in both educative system and market place.
The impact of ICT has not only enhanced the experience of Chilean students; teachers are more aware of educational improvements globally and connect to other educators, actively participating through virtual communities. Educational administrators have also benefited; by having a system with easy access, administrators can track student records. This set of experiences facilitates the inclusion of international standards in education; furthermore, Chilean students are building wider knowledge about international development and considering expanded advancement options, like applying to a foreign university.
One of the challenges of Enlaces is that because it started so early, rapid technological advances make it difficult for public policy officials to maintain the technology at a quick enough pace. Some are concerned that it is not suitable to sustain upcoming technological progress. For example, they built appropriate, large laboratories in order to support large desk computers but now, with the increasing use of handheld devices like personal laptops and e-readers at very affordable prices, these laboratories may become dated or unnecessary. . But, that is the price of technology! With constant changes, policy makers and administrative educators need to be at the very forefront of massive technological updates so they can constantly improve the effectiveness for schools.. Sounds expensive and challenging, right? Yet, along with great technological improvements usually also are more affordable prices, especially for educative meanings; so let’s hope that Latin American countries keep the leadership from their neighbors Chile, Uruguay and Brazil and from international success cases like India and some African countries.
Linking up with Enlaces (Chile), World Bank Blogs on Octuber 29, 2009. goo.gl/crq0K
Enlaces Program, the experience of Informatics Education in Chile, Chilean Ministry of Education. goo.gl/GAC2N