Is Everything Really Shiny & Bright in OLPC Uruguay?


It's an election year in Uruguay. Presidents cannot run for a consecutive term there, and Dr. Tabaré Vázquez, head of their first Socialist government in Uruguay, obviously wants the Proyecto Ceibal completed before he leaves office as a cornerstone of his legacy. Besides footnote-like Naui, Uruguay might still make it to become the first country in the world to actually deliver an XO to every single elementary-grade student.

I will let Dr. Vásquez paint the rosy stuff, and then you can then read the rest of this note for what he is not telling.

Dr. Tabaré Vázquez's laptop legacy

A major challenge for Ceibal, among several: the national telco monopoly, ANTEL, is not overly enthusiastic about free wireless internet. That is an understatement. Who will ANTEL get to pay their rates (4 times higher than in the US at 1/4 the GDP, thus 16 times more expensive than here!) when by using your kid's XO you get access for free?

They sort of went along when it was done in the countryside, where ANTEL connectivity was precarious anyway. Now Ceibal has mostly just Montevideo left to do. With over 50% of the population of Uruguay located there, this means a lot of potential income ANTEL will not get. ANTEL is extremely strong politically - imagine all the telcos and Internet providers in the US were as one, and spoke with one single voice...

Which brings up the matter of deploying in Montevideo, wisely left for last. At over 1.8 million people for the metroplex, it brings in the issues of urban living and contemporary mores. While community and family feel is still a quaint reminder of olden times in the Uruguayan countryside and small towns, Montevideo is noisy, impersonal, and has higher rates of all sorts of violent and nuisance crime and vandalism than the 'interior'. Gangs, drug use, and all the stuff that comes with "being cool in the city".

Doesn't look too good for a little kid walking with an XO. And if the experience so far in the next largest city in Uruguay, Salto, counts for anything, much higher rates of XOs damaged and broken is something to expect, 20% in some low income schools has been mentioned.

Which actually might not matter too much, since the goal as you can see from Dr. Vásquez' note, appears to be to "deliver" the XOs. When it comes to "use" the XOs, things are a bit less definite. There has been a lot of improvement in getting content for the XOs this year, which is good, but still not an apparent priority.

Design for learning doesn't show up much, there is scant connection with curricular needs: compare the detailed, extensive and utterly classroom-useless "why Math in the curriculum" with the very few actual materials to learn Math from, in the Ceibal site. Apparently over 16.000 queries have been received for the "how to create a blog" Ceibal page, though there seems to be only a few dozen of those so far.

And of course, as pointed out before, we are still missing real reports of educational impact, or actual educational use for that matter, or production - or lack thereof. Nice anecdotes, though.

In other news, some sort of software issue has blocked about 30.000 XOs in 4 "departamentos" more than a month ago, but that is being dealt with presently, mostly by volunteers, who, while not quite seen as full partners by Ceibal management, as in other places are expected to fix what goes wrong. They also see this as lemonade, for it should allow updating XOs to the latest build. Anyway, for Uruguayans it is our tradition few things get solved before Semana de Turismo (Easter)...

All in all, we admire the pluck, courage and steadfastness of the Uruguayan 'Garra Charrúa', which allows the rest of us to learn from someone else's mistakes. Things never are easy for the first one to take the plunge. It is to lament that Ceibal has so far refused to share information about challenges, maybe learning from OLPC Corporate, and follows the same policy of denial and infomercials.

Yet it is possible that, step by step, some XOs may actually end up benefiting at least a few kids and families, be they blessed by better giftings, or a dedicated teacher, or such random circumstance. And what they do release is CC open, so kudos for that!

We are not yet seeing a country quite pull itself by its bootstraps into the 21st century the OLPC way, yet those interested in copying Ceibal may care to contact them, for I am told they are preparing to offer international consulting services...

The dream lives on, and some flesh is getting attached to bone. We appreciate especially those who do the actual work, the volunteers, the community, the teachers who are striving, and let us all say, ¡fuerza, la celeste!

Related Entries


we admire the pluck, courage and steadfastness of the Uruguayan 'Garra Charrúa',

Oh, is that what it is called when a socialist taxes someone, then gives a fraction out again as gifts to someone else?

My hero.

aw, cmon, Joe, now you show up :-)

I'm sorry if the words were not short enough for you, obviously you do not get irony.

Just for those who missed it like Mr. McCarthy here, I am fully in support of the several community teams in Uruguay as an example of the way to do things, yet still feel a bit ambivalent about the officials "in charge", and I especially disagree about their lack of support and recognition of the volunteers.

Vazquez probably wants to deliver all of the laptops and pass it off to the next government to deal with the hard stuff: support and content for the laptops

Everything is shiny.
Misinformation is very obscure
a) Uruguay has now 1100 schools with Internet indoors and outdoors. In all the populations where there are schools there is Internet.
We have today 182.000 machines deployed, with 120.000 new families with computers.
b) Antel has a special price for Ceibal Schools
c) Antel has a special price of us$ 8 a month for Ceibal users.
d) The sotware problem that blocked 30.000 units is not 4 months old. Is 13 days old and will be solved by the 20th of April.
e) Ceibal has shared its experience with many countries and institutions.
f) By the end of the year we will have 380.000 machines deployed, 2000 schools , 220.000 new families with computers.
g) Montevideo will be covered with 350 hotspots Ceibal in addition to schools and high schools
h) There are over 30 impact projects analyzing Ceibal, and the results will be published

Don Miguel

es un honor para nosotros.

The ways of Ceibal are obscure-r (or have been so far, the fact that Mr. Brechner honnors us all with a comment may be a turn toward much good)

a) internet, yes. Curricular content is where? Internet is way not enough to call this an educational project.
b) Great! would you care to tell us details?
c) you mean Ceibal users (kids) have to pay $8 USD per month? (befa) or is it for Ceibal home users using other desktops? (encomio)
d) I didn't say it was 4 months old. I said 4 departamentos... And yes, I stand corrected, it was made public about 2 weeks ago, not "more than a month ago", my apologies. How long did it take y'all to fix the bricked machines after last year's holidays? was it like 2 months? Congratulations for the work of the volunteers and the private companies that are part of this. Was there a "licitación" for those companies? Like the one in Bella Union?
e) well, nice of you to say. Do you mean the infomercials, or do you mean solid data? if the later, could you share more? Where can we find it?
f) great! any chance there will be curricular content?
g) congratulations
h) ¿debemos esperar sentados? Everybody is waiting for those results. Can you give us some more details on who, when they will publish? Are they independent studies?

Don Miguel, en verdad aprecio que baje al ruedo, su actitud lo honra. No va a ser fácil, Hernán del Perú le contará lo alzada que está la indiada (aquí Yamandú, a las órdenes), pero luego de un par de semanas gracias a su honradez y valentía en responder incluso las preguntas difíciles, somos muchos los que hemos llegadoa apreciar a Hernán de manera que su anterior mutismo nos había impedidoo. Permítame augurarle a Ud. y al proyecto que dirige el recibir también, merecidamente, el aprecio de la gente preguntona, así como ya tienen el de aquellos que son callados.

Dear Friend
Be patient. This is a great project with many angles. The basic three are learning, equality and technology.
In all the three areas the project is moving, fast and good.
I will answer some of your questions
The 8 us$ is for any home, any computer.
The solving of the blocking problem was done by people of Latu and the volunteer. They volunteers are part of Ceibal from day one. No project can be done without them.
All purchases were done with transparent tenders, audited by external authorities.
You put a lot of suspicion in your statements. I dont want to argue.
The glass is far more full than empty. Everybody is welcomed to learn from us and teach us

Dear Ing. Brechner,

you were faster replying than I was apologizing for what has been seen as a harsh tone. In any case, I do agree with the general intentions of Ceibal and your own part in it, and indeed, we are better than we were (I am a wounded veteran of INFED; we know worse). In that sense I have always applauded that this project was handled by the LATU and not by ANEP.

However, I do beg of you we do establish some means we can ask you and your team direct questions, with a reasonable hope of having them answered. This would go a long way to get us to be more effective in participating with you in this.

Yama & Miguel,

Can you two organize an interview? I think a "5 Questions for Ceibal" or "A Short Interview with Miguel" or something of the like would be great to get more clarity around OLPC Uruguay into the English-language world.

A los autores,
puedo suponer que entienden perfectamente el castellano, por lo cual prefiero redactarlo en mi lengua madre, y en la lengua del Uruguay, que si bien no autóctona, es la que actualmente se utiliza.
Primeramente, lo de los bloqueos era algo que ya se sabía de antemano, ya se sabía que tenían que pasar por la Escuela una vez al mes para acceder a la Red de la Escuela, pues las XO cuentan con un sistema de seguridad.
Segundo, pudimos constatar que tanto en Salto como en Montevideo (la entrega realizada el año pasado) como en otras partes del territorio nacional, la rotura de máquinas es pareja.
Por último, lo que algunos pueden no ver es que justamente el plan ceibal apunta a la alfabetización digital de TODA la población y no solo de los niños, razón , considero que el artículo no es imparcial. Resulta poco informativo y con mirada sesgada, y poco evaluadora de las múltiples posibilidades que se proyectan desde el Plan Ceibal - OLPC.
Saludos, Lucía

PS: if sb needs a translation in english it would be a pleasure to send it, just make the comment here.

muchas gracias por el comentario. Permíteme hacerte unas preguntitas, ya que parece que estás bien informada.
Interesante que dices que ya se sabía de antemano lo de los bloqueos. E igual ocurrió. ¿Hay otros problemas de los cuales ya se sabe, pero tampoco se toman providencias generalizadas para evitarlos? ¿Es la seguridad de los niños usando internet uno de ellos?

Respecto a la rotura de máquinas, ¿te animas a decirnos cantidades específicas? decir que "son parejas" no nos informa mucho...
20% es el número que he oído, de máquinas rotas en ciertas escuelas de Salto, sería interesante que una autoridad como vos confirme.

Tienes toda la razón, no es una nota imparcial, es una nota de opinión que hace pública alguna información. Para ser imparcial necesitaríamos información objetiva, muy difícil de obtener de las autoridades Ceibal. Me tuve que basar en comentarios sueltos que he recibido de gente que ha visto o vive Ceibal.

Sería simpático que el Plan Ceibal aparte de tener múltiples posibilidades, como dices con mucho acierto, también tuviera resultados, y que esos se hagan públicos. Idealmente con cifras objetivas, no solo anécdotas. ¿Te animas a escribir? a Wayan (el dueño de este blog) le encantaría publicar algo así, y a todos nosotros el leerlo.