While I was in Uruguay in July 2010 I wrote a fairly extensive article called XO Breakage Rates and Mitigation Strategies in Uruguay. In it I highlighted the results of a study conducted by Plan Ceibal which showed that only 72,6% of the XO laptops in the country were in a usable state. Additionally I spent quite a bit of time describing the various steps Plan Ceibal and the Uruguyan community were taking to address and mitigate this serious challenge.
My thoughts at the time are probably best summed up by the following sentence from my Plan Ceibal article on EduTechDebate:
Overall I believe that Plan Ceibal will soon be able to address the high breakage rates they're currently seeing.
Ever since then I've been very keen on hearing what kind of positive impact the measures taken in Uruguay are actually having. As such I was very excited when I stumbled across this news-item (in Spanish) on the Plan Ceibal Web site which linked to the results of a 2011 follow-up survey (also in Spanish) to the one I had based last year's article on.
Out of the 5 page document the following table on page 3 really is the key piece of information. It contains an overview of the state of the XOs as recorded in a May 2011 survey across the country, in the interior of the country, and Montevideo. Please do note that it was pointed out to me that the survey represents the state of machines of students from 2nd to 6th grade. 1st graders receive a working laptop every year, that is why they're not considered in the surveys.
Red circles added for emphasis.
At first sight what it shows is that the percentage of working XOs has actually gone down everywhere compared to the April 2010 survey which last year's article was based on. Across the country the percentage of working XOs went to 69,6% (April 2010: 72,6%), in the interior of the country to 66,2% (69,5%), and in Montevideo to 77% (80,4%). However at the same time the current trend does show improvements compared to a September 2010 survey.
The biggest difference can be observed in Montevideo where all key metrics show that things have improved significantly since September 2010, although the percentage of working XOs is still less than in April 2010. At the same time fewer XOs than ever before are reported to be broken or currently undergoing repair: 12,3% (April 2010: 16,3% / September 2010: 24,9%).
The report attributes this improvement to the changes made to the maintenance system in early 2011 when mobile repair teams and an additional repair center in downtown Montevideo were implemented. Especially considering that only 2 months passed between the implementation of these changes and the survey this is indeed a very encouraging trend. The report also mentions that due to these developments this approach will soon be extended to the rest of the country.
These positive impressions from Montevideo are also supported by comments from volunteers which I received in reply to an e-mail I sent to the olpc-uruguay mailing list. One of them mentioned that at his group's meetings the number of children who show up with broken XOs has gone down from the previous 10~20 to a maximum of 2 or 3 per week. Another volunteer who works in a school also reported that the situation has improved considerably.
There's no doubt in my mind that the new approach in Montevideo and its expansion is a step into the right direction. At the same time there's no denying that almost a third of XOs not being in a usable state as of May - of which a total of 20,3% are being reported as broken or currently undergoing repair - is a major challenge indeed. Especially once you consider that according to Plan Ceibal's figures we're talking about approximately 46,000 pupils and their XOs being affected by this.
As such Plan Ceibal needs to continue improving its maintenance system in every possible way. Of particular importance should be the goal of making it more accessible to the poorest parts of the population where the percentage of working XOs sits at a low 65,5% (April 2010: 66,3%).
The study also mentions that the next survey of the state of XOs was scheduled to be undertaken in October so I assume we can expect an updated report to become available in early 2012. Let's hope that the expansion of the new maintenance program to the entire country will yield the desired positive impacts as already seen in Montevideo.