Video: Plan Ceibal's Miguel Brechner at TEDxBuenosAires

   
   
   
   
   

Miguel Brechner Frey on "Revolutionizing social integration in Uruguay with One Laptop per Child."

Female Speaker: Barrio La Buchada is a neighborhood in context. It's a community of people dedicated to recycling. There are helpers, laborers, housewives...

Female educator: Actually, many people call it "the village" because it's a neighborhood that is isolated... So in this small town there is no internet cafe, no butcher shop, no supermarkets... It's a neighborhood with peculiar characteristics, where access to information technology is very complex.

Boy: These days, almost no one has money in order to buy a computer. And even if someone buys a computer, they can't connect to the Internet, or anything like that.

Miguel Brechner Frey: This is Uruguay's problem: 40% of children who attend public schools come from the poorest fifth rung of society. And out of this fifth, just 3% makes it to college. I want to tell you how through the CEIBAL plan (Conectividad Educativa de Informática Básica para el Aprendizaje en Línea), we decided to take a chance on making a change and to find a way out of this crisis we live in.

In the year 2005, Nicholas Negroponte launched the idea of "One Laptop per Child". For us in Uruguay, a small country, we decided that it was a great idea, that we could adopt it, change it a little to match our reality and innovate it. From the first day we thought: this is a plan of social integration. This is a plan of equity. This is a plan that will allow us to grant true equal opportunity to children and adolescents. This way there is no doubt that, if we can fix this, then we are sure that we can solve educational and learning issues, and without a doubt the infrastructure of a country that has a need to grant computers.

When President Tavare Vazquez in 2006 announced this plan, it was clear that there were risks involved. For those of you who don't know, President Vazquez is an oncologist, and for him it is understood that without assuming risks it is difficult to fix issues or problems. We understood that the only risk we could not assume was to do nothing. Because by doing nothing we knew that we were postponing entire generations of young people in this situation. And why? Because it's very clear: the system of growth, of great economic growth we've had in the last seven years is not enough to reach those places that are in such great need of solutions.

The first risky yet innovative decision we took was to separate political inquiry... sorry, separate the politics from inquiry. As far as politics went, a multi-disciplinary committee was formed with all the players that will participate in the plan. The query was left to the Technical Laboratory of Uruguay, which I presided over back then, for the operational part. You are probably wondering: What's so innovative about separating politics from inquiry? It's only logical! Well, don't take it that way. In our countries there are countless politicians who conduct inquiries, and consultants practicing politics. And that's the worst of both worlds. We are faced with brutal congestion that way. The other important aspect, a very firm decision we made, was that the educational system would not be the one to execute the plan.

You are wondering: why? Because the educational system is not prepared for this! Nobody can tell the educational system, take this three million devices, or a hundred, or fifty thousand, or a hundred thousand... They are just not prepared, and what would they do? Argue a lot, and then after much discussion call the consultants, who in turn will call international organizations, who will then impose a set of conditions that are too sophisticated and will only allow too few participants who in turn will try to cover their own behinds...

Like I say, an endless ladder of risk aversion. And what will happen is that the people will end up paying too much for the product, a lot more than what it's worth. And since we were the first ones who had already taken risks, we already knew perfectly that no one knew more than us... No one else knew, so why pay and not decide that we would be the ones to solve the problem?

Obviously, upon launch of the program there were two big problems: fears and risks we assumed. For one, children know more than the teachers, and teachers were afraid that children knew more than they did. So we tried to explain to them that obviously things will go that way, but that it would not diminish their capacity as educators just because their students knew more. Here there are people of different ages, I could ask the parents to raise their hands if they feel as if they have lost authority because they ask help from their children. Nobody! And to the children I ask how many of them enjoy helping their parents? Most of you! That's the way it is in all educational settings.

Another aspect that for us was crucial or of importance was to not put pressure on school administrators. We were aware that if we pressured school administrators what would end up happening would be that the system would come to a halt. So we told them: you will get a device just as the children. Don't forget this, the child just like the teacher in public school will get a machine. Start using the machine as a tool. Then, little by little, start to modify in order to add content and change the curriculum. Since they were not under pressure, the teachers saw their students interact and it was genius. It was brilliant in the sense that they started to become strongly motivated.

Without a doubt we received multiple criticisms at the time. It was too expensive, there were other issues that needed resolution, why couldn't we feed the children, why not reform schools, etc... And when I ask people: Did you buy a computer for your child? They answer yes. So when the government resolves to give a computer to all children why are they against it? Everyone who makes an effort to by a computer for their child, do they argue so much? No they don't.

In terms of what did we accomplish I make this clear: we went from first grade elementary to first grade of high school because students grow with their computers, the computers are theirs. They all have computers, that's around 380,000 of them. 98% of those children have Internet connectivity. 140,000 children do not have to walk farther than 300 meters to find an Internet connection. At year end, all children will have such conditions. We have trained over 18,000 teachers. We are working with municipalities so that they can provide Internet connections in all homes. We have a television station so that we can broadcast the best educational practices, and obviously we have an educational portal.

Don't think this is all so easy. I'm telling you this quickly, we had all kinds of problems. For us to avoid laptops being sold in the black market we have a software that locks the machine should it get lost or if the child does not go to school. Well, one day 50,000 machines locked up at once due to our mistake. You cannot imagine the problem we went through in unlocking 50,000 machines one by one because the lock code is unique and is not given to the teachers and of course never to the children.

How much did it cost us? We invested around one hundred million dollars. So that we do not delve too much into figures, each computer cost us around $188. Sixty dollars was the rest of the cost: servers, networks, antennas, tech support, parts, logistics, delivery... everything else. This was all accomplished with public funds, both domestic and foreign. If we calculate four years of effective life per machine, it will cost us about $75 per year, of which $48 is the computer and $27 the rest of the servicing a project of this magnitude requires. To give you an idea: in the deployment phase that's less than 5% of the educational budget, and less than one two-thousandth of the gross domestic product.

Obviously, after we talked about all this we have to talk about results. We invested more than one hundred million dollars. The first result is: it can be done. The second important result is that we have 380,000 results. I can't tell you everything, and I'm not too vain to tell you that I don't know all of the results, no. We have direct and indirect results. We have expected and unexpected results. It's also true that there are many things that happen that we seriously or scientifically can't tell for certain they are a direct result of CEIBAL. There are also many things that happen that we can't say happen because of CEIBAL, but we can't say that we weren't involved.

A lot of the data we gathered points to one thing: it was worth it. It was worth it because kids are more motivated when they go to school. It was worth it because they are more motivated to do homework. It was worth it because they are not repeating grades where we have been able to measure. It was worth it because we gave thousands of children identification documents since we did not give a laptop unless they had some sort of national ID, or at least the parents' ID. So in that sense the children were properly identified. It was worth it because it increased self esteem in a lot of children. A lot of children learned about photography, about film, about music. And there was no way they could have done it if they did not have that tool. There is no doubt it was worth it because the public schools went back to being cornerstones within small towns and neighborhoods and rural communities. And because within those public schools teachers are reinventing themselves. They stopped being Wikipedia teachers and turned to being motivating and innovative teachers.

So there's no doubt it was worth it because teachers teach children and children teach their parents. At last, it was worth it because we have transformed a privilege, which was to own a computer in the year 2006, to a right. And that change was radical for political and economic systems and society in general to support and become involved in the project. And today we have thousands of volunteers working in the schools, and a lot of high net-worth professionals supporting us, practically for free because they believe in the program.

We can't be too celebratory. We've only concluded phase one. What is ahead of us is a lot more. In this first phase what we accomplished was the technological introduction to people's homes and schools. We still need to reinvent the classroom, reinvent education, reinvent the learning experience, and accomplish all this with the parents.

There is a phrase we often use to describe the state of CEIBAL. We say, if CEIBAL was a movie, for children is a comedy. For parents is a suspense movie. And for teachers is a drama.

Don't doubt this for a second: CEIBAL does not fix all of Uruguay's problems. It's simply a part of the solution. CEIBAL allows development... Technology allows development of new ideas and new solutions. We also have to make it clear that this is a slow process. We have three variables: social, cultural, and educational. Those three variables move at different speeds. We quickly see social impact. We see cultural impact more slowly. And obviously at much slower pace we'll see the educational impact. Only by working on those three aspects in conjunction can we hope for change, change we can believe in and accomplish.

Before I finish, I'd like to show you a video because, truthfully, talk is cheap and images are worth more.

Male Teacher: Don't forget: username and password, right? Ok, let's go.

Female Teacher: And here we write what? A message...

Male Teacher: Let's see what commands you see

Male Teacher: You have to make it point that way

Male Teacher: LE-120...

Student: Teacher, look!

Male Teacher: Perfect!

Parent: It's wonderful... Honestly, it's wonderful.

Female Teacher: It was impossible for us to think that, from the classroom... from a desk we could go to international museums, libraries, download maps...

Student: There are times when we search for information, images, stuff that we are working on.

Student: If you divide it it's the center of the screen...

Students: Here just put 100.

Parent: use it to look for work, to write poetry...

Student: Mom found a job with the computer, and that schedule my mom used to work, every other day? That has changed, because Mom now works the whole week thanks to a job I found for her.

Student: Is that ok? Take a look...

Student: You see a little section, you see? Like a part where you can see yourself because here it has a camera...

Student: take pictures of animals, of a brown rabbit I have, and of Dad shearing... and many things I do with the computer.

Teacher: Many take the computer home, they feel that it rightfully belongs to them... And it also brings the family together at tea time, they can ask Mom questions... they can interact together by teaching them and showing them about something they learned or downloaded.

Teacher: It's true that parents are more interested in checking the homework of their children, for example

Parent: He used to tell me: I don't want to go to school. But now that he has the computer it's like: Mom I want to go to school. And he cries because he wants to go now

Parent: He would show his brother and would show us about the computer... and now he spends hours on the computer

Teacher: And they know better than us how to use it, because now they teach us, and not the other way around.

Parent: We are the ones asking them: How do you do this, so we can learn? We don't know. But he tells us: it's this way and the other... But he quickly shows us. Something that we can't understand until he teaches us.

Parent: It's a new way of learning that we did not have before...

Student: I want to be a graphic designer who can make software and create things on the computer that can be useful...

Teacher: We are giving them the opportunity to learn something... to be trained in something that will be required of them in the labor market. They know what webpages to visit and how to classify queries in a search engine. These are things that will be useful in the future. It's like the school is catching up to the rhythm of the society in which exists and to which it has an incredible responsibility.

Student: I always liked school. And now with the computer, even more.

Plan CEIBAL Uruguay. A plan, a country, a hope.

Song: I want to be a rider. I want to travel the astral plane. Without leaving my riding chair, in the shade of a ceibal tree.

Miguel Brechner Frey: Thank you very much.

The Revolution of Ideas.


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2 Comments

I cannot say how impressed I am by the implementation of CEIBAL.

Even ignoring the results for the time, the mere fact that the Uruguayan people were able to implement and execute this plan for the benefit of their children (all of them) looks to me as a miracle.

Such a plan would stress the political system and organizational capacity of even the most advanced developed countries. Let alone a developing country with so many other problems.

My admiration to those who succeeded here.

Winter

This is a great pride for all Uruguayan, before I take my hat off to those who took the risk and is encouraged to do something "out of the box" for a small country like Uruguay. This shows lka greatness of the Uruguayan people and I hope will be a first step in future revolutions.

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