On Tuesday the President of Uruguay, Tabaré Vázquez, and his suite visited Escuela 28 / 80 in Montevideo to hand out the last Ceibal XO, as electioneering events are on their last days for presidential elections scheduled for October 25 in that country. According to the Constitution, the President is not to do political campaigning, so he merely indicated that this was another "promise fulfilled". The main candidate for his party was noticeably absent.
It has been announced that this number, 396,727, is the final count of XOs that complete 100% coverage grades1 to 6, for 2.332 public schools of which about 1.900 have connectivity. I am encouraged in terms of quality of information that it was noted to the press that this program does not yet cover directly private schools, though there is a sliding scale according to each private school fee structure to encourage them to join, in some cases at no cost.
Kudos and Criticisms
Interestingly, the main opposition candidate, Luis Alberto Lacalle, a former president of Uruguay, does indeed cite Ceibal as the best thing Vázquez did as president, when trying to show that he can manage to find something nice to say about the current government. "A marvelous thing of Dr. Tabaré Vásquez", he said as a guest of an Argentinian TV program widely distributed in the region.
Mr. Lacalle also quickly dismissed growing complaints about lack of training for teachers to prepare them for Ceibal. This "forberance" should not need surprise anyone, because during the Lacalle government computer labs were started in every major high school in a program beset with scandal, inefficiency, and a depth of denial that so far Ceibal has not reached even in its worst days. It is unclear Lacalle would do better this time around, if elected, but my opinion may be biased, see disclaimer below.
"El País", the main newspaper of the "blanco" party of Mr. Lacalle, does give prime time to a collection of criticisms to the Ceibal plan. Some of those critics echo concepts we are used to hear already, for they are mostly true: the XO is not a magic formula, more training is needed, evaluation is good.
It really takes away a lot of their credibility, the fact that those criticisms are voiced by people who when they were in power did not implement those very same policies they are now claiming for. Of especial note is Mr. Rama, candidate for senator for the Colorado Party, and once the top guy for Education in Uruguay, whose swiss-cheese education reform that even included replacing English with French as main foreign language in education in the mid '90s was lacking the very elements he now says are so obviously necessary for any education project...
All in all, in our part of the world where we have learned to beware of "Mission Accomplished" banners, we are glad for what did actually happen in Uruguay, which is that a lot of kids got to have this "pedacito de cielo" ('little bit of sky', a poetic name given to the XOs in Uruguay) at least for a while. For what remains to be done, which is to actually make these things be of some use in class and for learning, we are ready and willing to help, though I am unsure Uurguayans really need our help: if Uruguayan authorities would just listen to their own teachers, they could do incredibly Good Things.
Of course, administrators would have to look beyond the "safe" teachers, the ones that get promoted because they seldom made a mistake. It should be known that the lack of mistakes usually means they seldom ever tried to do something, not that they are actually any better. So far the job positions of "Ceibal Motivators" have been filled by seniority, by mostly quite safe people.
Full disclosure: Yama Ploskonka once ran for office in Uruguay with the Colorado Party, nowadays an almost defunct political force. He also wrote and published Breves apuntes para una introducción al cambio...calidad educativa a book critical of the Rama reform and of the ill-managed INFED2000 computer labs project, available for free download. He's not tame yet.