Montevideo will be the OLPC capital of the world

   
   
   
   
   

It's widely known that Uruguay's Plan Ceibal with its 400,000 XOs is the largest OLPC deployment to date as well as the first truly large-scale rollout of laptops across all public primary schools in a country. Hence it comes as no surprise that a lot of countries who are currently thinking about, planning or working on large-scale OLPC projects for their own schools are turning to Uruguay to see "how it's done".


The Uruguayan 1CC

I'm not sure whether this was part of Plan Ceibal's strategy to begin with but today it's clear that Montevideo wants to be the global center when it comes to knowledge about how to implement large scale OLPC (or similar ICT for Education) projects. As a result they're currently building up a team which focuses on "services to the exterior" in the form of consulting other countries.

I assume that CITS (Centro para la Inclusión Tecnológica y Social - Center for Technological and Social Inclusion), the organization which implements Plan Ceibal, looks at this consulting service as a potential source of revenue. At the same time I was told that it's also considered a way to stay on top of what is going on in the field as well as allowing their staff to constantly work with new technologies and approaches. This knowledge will then in turn be the foundation for improvements of Plan Ceibal and future projects. Today CITS is already working with a number of Central and South American countries and the list of interested parties is ever-increasing.

One very interesting question that someone raised when I first talked about this was how far, if at all, Uruguay's experiences and approaches are applicable in other countries because the fact is that Uruguay isn't too representative of the countries that OLPC generally works in. The preexisting infrastructure, financial and well as human resources that Plan Ceibal could build on are hardly available in other regions such as Afghanistan, Nepal, Peru, Rwanda, and The West Bank where OLPC is active.

Regardless of this discussion it seems clear to me that countries or provinces interested in implementing OLPC will turn to Uruguay for advice. This is mainly due to the simple fact that it's about the only place they can turn to. Neither OLPC itself nor Sugar Labs or any other organization or entity for that matter has really focused on building up the required knowledge and resources to thoroughly help support (large-scale) OLPC deployments.

Yes, some individual volunteers and OLPC employees have done and are doing a tremendous amount of work in this area but in my opinion this has barely scratched the surface of what should be done. But then again, all this hardly comes as a surprise given that OLPC's Nicholas Negroponte still insists that simply handing out laptops to children and walking away is actually a reasonable modus operandi. Since countries looking into OLPC quickly realize that this isn't necessarily the case they are increasingly turning to Montevideo, rather than Boston, to figure out how to turn the one laptop per child vision into a successful reality.

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5 Comments

First, yes, indeed, the intention of Ceibal to export consulting services exists. In Bolivia, where I spent the last 4 months, in the Ministry of Education there is expectation / plans / President-level agreements to "benefit" from Ceibal's experience.

Second, I concur, Uruguay's situation in many areas is quite unlike any other - thus harder to extrapolate.

BUT, to "turn to Uruguay for advice" is IMHO not necessarily that different than going to Boston or Kigali, or to Belgrade or Cairo or Haiti, for that matter, to help improve a deployment.

This is because the Uruguayan government has also been implementing the "give'em the laptops and walk away" method, just as Nicholas would want it, setting up Internet connectivity but very little else. Yes indeed, the logistics were very well put together by LATU, all things considered, but teacher training and actual use of the machines to contribute to learning has been lagging very far behind, unless you count random hit-and-miss play as learning, which actually is the way Nicholas & Walter want it.

To learn something from Uruguayan consultants that were actually useful when it comes to bridge the gap or contribute to education we would first need Ceibal to face facts objectively, which is something it mostly has avoided, much preferring to share and tell what feels good to what is actually happening (or not happening) in classrooms, which we have to reconstruct mostly from independent, piecemeal reports.

If we manage to assess the actual impact on education, it seems we rather would learn a lot about what NOT to do, to begin with, connectivity does not solve everything.

A fact: this is a place where things are going better than usual. If they managed integrating XOs with learning they would have it made, and truly become a guiding light for all other projects. As things stand, the problem seems to be wetware-related, and, if nothing else, we do actually gain from learning from what they are doing and how that goes, not so much from what they are saying - worse if they charge us to listen.

I find myself agreeing with the general gist of your argument but don't see things quite as bleak as you;-)

Head over to EduTechDebate and read my article about Uruguay to see what I mean: http://edutechdebate.org/olpc-in-south-america/olpc-in-uruguay-impressions-of-plan-ceibal/

Oh, and Yama, great to have you back, we missed you! :-)

Hey, thanks Christoph, I also missed y'all (which is a sort of funny exchange between two people who actually have never met in person, nevertheless having managed to collaborate for a couple years at least...)

Yeah, I guess I tend to see the glass half-empty, maybe more so after my recent trip - long story. Anyway, I did go back to your article in edutechdebate, and well, what can I say? The situation certainly is better than it was, mostly thanks to the volunteers, but still VERY short of what it could be...

two big outstanding issues: NIH (not invented here) is very entrenched. Advances to move past it among the volunteer communities are limited by the failure by the central offices of Ceibal to validate their role as real partners. You mention they "can provide ... components that are often underestimated key factor". Couldn't agree more.

Objectivity. Evaluations and reports are still built in 'guay around what people think or feel, seldom about actual observed facts. The closest to actual measures of use of the XOs in the classroom indicates lower numbers than those in the feelings-based reports otherwise available. Also, only 68.3% of XOs operational? When Ceibal reports over 80%?

We'll keep moving...

Yeah, it's a pity that we've never had a chance to meet in person so far:-(

Regarding evaluations: While I do think that more, quite a bit more in fact, needs to be done on that front I do have to defend the objectivity of the official evaluations. They are indeed well done and in many aspects don't differ too much from what other independent reports are saying. e.g. on the broken laptops front Plan Ceibal's official evaluation clearly states that 27.4% of the laptops weren't usable (see http://www.olpcnews.com/countries/uruguay/xo_breakage_rates_in_uruguay.html for more details).

Wow! I stand corrected and must admit I was not aware of this report (yop, been away too long).

I am saddened by the numbers, but glad they are finally made public - that means some attention to the problem can be given, and others can learn from them and hopefully avoid falling into that pattern.

Indeed we can learn much from one another - sharing information is very valuable, not just for the value of information itself, but more so for the collaboration attitude it opens. It probably took a lot of guts to get that report out the door - that is also a very good sign - hopefully they didn't shoot the messenger, and an era of sharing of ALL the news by Ceibal is coming. Important, as they indeed are the people who know more about how this actually works or not.

Thanks!

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