Argentina's One Laptop per Child

A little bit of background here: Conectar Igualdad is the Argentinian government’s official program to give one netbook to every student and teacher in public high schools, special education schools and teachers’ institutes. I am part of a mailing list of super nerds called #Nardoz and we are mostly argentinians (both men and women) and we love technology.

The topic started after an article titled (literal translation): “(Dis)connecting equality, a program that inspired compliments but today receives indictments.”

  • About 1.2 to 1.6 million devices are out of service.
  • Teachers lack of knowledge and training.
  • Schools without enough infrastructure.

1) Maximiliano K.

I have a first-hand experience to share: My wife is a Maths teacher in a Public High School in Avellaneda When she received the netbook a couple of years ago, two aspects surprised me: the amount of educational software already installed (some were cool) and the double-booting Linux - Windows.

The third aspect that got my attention –which makes the previous go off– is the fact that nobody took 5 minutes to explain the most basic stuff to her. Two years later, some teachers were selected (based on time availability and no merit at all) to be part of a course. Let’s not forget that teachers to earn enough money have to work all day long. Andrea was lucky and received it (once a month, 4 hs.) Her training was for a program called Geogebra. It helps in plotting functions and other maths applications.

What happened next? Andrea started planning with the students based on what she learnt, but… Most of the students didn’t have the netbook anymore: either broken, or stolen, or they sold it to fill other needs. From the school’s remaining notebooks, Andrea got 10 for 40 students. She grouped them ever 4 people and started working. I’m not going to exaggerate telling it was night and day, but the improvements were notorious… And with a hard subject such as High School Maths, most of the kids were interested in functions’ plotting and equations.

In the end the capacitation DID exist (I don’t know about Chaco’s Impenetrable; but at least in Avellaneda.) The teacher’s training was null or too late, and most of what could have been achieved was fading away with time, I believe because of the lack of foresight. Well, a personal opinion is that in politics, things generally respect the politician agenda and not people’s agenda. If they had started the trainings before and later delivered the netbooks, maybe they would have lost a couple of elections, some deals and the headlines.

But as Alan said, it seems that it has indeed changed the reality of some; that is a lot (it is.)

2) Matias S.

I feel it’s always the same, someone with a good idea, politicians/bosses/marketers (you can fill it up with a few other characters) want to take advantage of it and deform or mis-implement the idea looking for a benefit and unefficiently investing the money.

They announce it, celebrate, salute each other and go looking for another idea to ruin. But that new idea is just starting and some anonymous heroes appear (mothers, wifes, colleagues,) with half the resources but a lot of balls, wit and heart make something out of it. I think, if I’m not mistaken, the result is called Magic realism.

3) Sebastián Z.

I just wanted to contribute that at least they got to Bariloche although my cousin uses it at home. I’ve never asked him if that’s because they don’t use it at school or because they can’t.

In 2010 I was working in a school in City of Buenos Aires and I remember not being able to use the laptops for a long time due to the lack of infrastructure. I also remember parents signing a paper being responsibles for the loss of laptops (such as in selling them.)

Furthermore, writing with pencil and paper is not a small matter. That should not be replaced. The way we develop our thinking needs it. If any of this modifies that, we are lost…

4) Walter F.

In early 2013 I asked several teachers (in Misiones) whom I’m still in contact, and they said:

  1. The netbooks come with Linux, as we don’t know how to use that, we install Windows.
  2. The children don’t know how to take care of them, even taking out the keys (I don’t know what for.) That kind of vandalism and I’m not speaking of a big city problem, but small country’s schools.
  3. Whenever they broke, they had IT support: just imagine how long they take being 750 miles aways from Buenos Aires.

They didn’t find usefulness in technology. Teachers don’t know how to use them, they don’t find a practical application, there’s no wifi, even no internet, no servers, etc. They have a notebook and they don’t know what for.

In a Buenos Aires train commute I saw two kids about 8 years old with smocks* sitting on the floor playing FIFA and GTA.

If they had invested the netbook’s money in books for a library, it would have been more effective and long-lasting.

Also, That money, let’s remember, came out of ANSES which came from AFJP, not from the Ministry of Education. That’s an embezzlement.

5) Nicolas P.

I think it’s possitive to go forward in this direction. Obviously, saying the digital gap disappeared would be delusional. But I don’t think it’s logical to say it doesn’t represent a big step… Which is stated in the last paragraph of the article.

Lastly, I think criticizing the plan because the netbooks broke is aiming to see the empty glass. If a million broke means there are still 2,5 to 3 millions of teenagers having a computer thanks to the plan. It is also logical that in 4 years a lot broke, they’re not eternal. (Take my example, I broke 2 notebooks in the last 3 years)

To sum up, to me the idea is good beyond the flaws. That’s why I expect the criticism helps to foresee how to launch a second stage of the plan (I don’t care if it’s this government or the next one) with the necessary improvements (training teachers, improving school’s connections, replacing broken netbooks and trying to make them better, etc.) and not to decide to abort it.

6) Mariano V.

Maybe it would have been better to take it as a long-term deal and not give away computers. Maybe having an IT class and room in all schools as first step and then test giving one laptop per child.

I would like to know if anyone had a pedagogical experience closer to this kind of initiative, that works so well on kids. The article only says “specialists opinions”. I would take their opinion carefully.

The article is a bit tendentious but it does mention possitive aspects, specially on the paragraph about sexual education.

It seems everyone is hoping to fix educational problems with a notebook and in reality it is just a tool or a possible medium.

Those saying it’s not the last version, or mentioning there’s something better, didn’t get the programmed obsolescence. They think it’s something a State can face.

I invite you all to see this talk. It’s about the project De Mentes Libres. About their experience and work sharing the technology knowledge in several towns across the country.

7) Alan R.

Mi old lady works a lot with community centers. Even though she doesn’t know the plan thoroughly, she told me this little big thing that I think has to be replicated in other places and yet nobody had it into account:

Schools don’t have wi-fi or it breaks often. Thus kids go to the park that has free wi-fi. The small detail is that in parks is where you have the biggest movement of paco and other drugs, then they are influenced and get caught.

Ergo, what is the purpose of giving a netbook to someone who doesn’t have solutions to a lot of basic problems that are way more serious? From the tech standpoint, what’s the point without proper infrastructure?

Technology is everything for us, but inclusion to society in the target of these programs doesn’t come by with technology. Yet.

8) Sebastián S.

You know I’m critic of what this government does, but sadly the article is written with bitchiness. Just to give the lie to the president when she said “we’ve covered the digital gap.” Of course the phrase is, at least, a terrible exaggeration (no news by the way) but easily you can detect their ‘specialists’ have zero objectivity. Come on, one had worked for Plan Sarmiento and the other one got kicked out from it (clearly he’s still not over it.)

There’s an article by the plan’s responsible. I don’t know her much, but enough to know she won’t have any problem giving La Nacion§ an interview about this.

I have been participating for a couple of years in a forum of public data that works within the Nation’s Chief of Cabinet. Multiple times we were together with La Nacion’s Open Data team. They work super hard and they try to stay away from this kind of political operation. They also know us and they value our work. Clearly in this case it was more important to hit the government.

A couple of times I had the chance to talk with colleagues who work for the program. They’re strongly fighting to include Huayra, a Debian-based open distribution of Linux into every computer, besides all brives and stuff that Microsoft did (quite successfully) to sell a ton of licenses.

P.S: I don’t think a tablet is going to be more appropriate for the kids. I would like at least kids to try to learn to write (I know, I’m being idealist) and I think a tablet doesn’t help in being a studing tool. So, an “expert” trying to sell tablets and connected-to-the-cloud Chromebooks as the solution for every evil makes me doubtful.

In the end, as you can see, there are different lines of thought but most of us agree that there are more basic problems that need to be taken care of before trying these first world ideas.

This reminded me of the broken windows theory with the catch that I have no idea on where to start from in this case. Argentina is a rich country that could be one of the best countries in the world, but sadly every politician seems to be selfish and only pay attention if they can get more votes. And it might be part of our lifestyle. Even private companies care more about new clients than current clients fidelity.

It is an open debate.

* Distinctive overall for those going to public schools. † ANSES is the national’s retirement funds. The government expropriated the private 401(k)s equivalents / saving funds called AFJP. ‡ Plan Sarmiento is the City of Buenos Aires analogy of Conectar Igualdad. The city’s government and the nation’s government are against each other. § La Nación is the newspaper on which the original article that inspired us all came from. It is also against the current national government.