As OLPC Uruguay nears it goal of suppling XO laptops to around 400,000 school children in 2,360 state primary schools in Uruguay, The Economist has taken a look at Plan Ceibal's success over the past three years. In Laptops for all, the magazine starts off with startlingly low figures on laptop costs:
Each machine costs $260 (including teacher-training and connection charges) and the estimated annual maintenance cost is $21. In total, the scheme has cost less than 5% of the education budget.
Digging into these figures we find that teacher training was only 1 day which might be why the Economist found many of Uruguay's teachers struggle with the new technology. And the maintenance costs seem low when school server technology is still an issue - in 70% of primary schools only half the laptops can go online at the same time. Worse, the Economist says:
In Escuela 95, up to half of the students in some classes have broken their machines, usually by cracking the screen or snapping the antennae that pick up a Wi-Fi signal. When poor, rural children wreck theirs, they often prefer to keep their new status symbol clutched to their chests than risk the postal service not returning it promptly from the central maintenance centre.
But I do agree with the Economist's conclusion - in the Uruguayan context, One Laptop Per Child seems worth the try. Maybe they will increase test scores as well as bring Constructionism to the classroom. Or as the Economist says:
These ambitions will be tested for the first time later this month when every Uruguayan seven-year-old will take online exams in a range of academic subjects. The rest of the world should be intrigued: the first country in Latin America to provide free, compulsory schooling will become the first, globally, to find out whether furnishing a whole generation with laptops is a worthwhile investment.