Friday, June 11, 2010

One computer to each student in Chile?

Article published in Revista Qué Pasa, on June 11, 2010

Can we improve the quality of education in Chile thanks to the Information Technologies and Communication Technologies (ICTs)?

It depends.

If we imagine as a magic solution, whose mere presence (in the form of notebooks, netbooks, mobile or interactive whiteboards) triggered an inevitable flow of changes and improvements, the answer is no, impossible.

However, if we imagine as a tool, a lever that generates and supports fundamental changes in educational practices of all involved (teachers, principals, students and parents), yes, certainly.

This is the background reflection was in the air between those attending the seminar "From the chalk to Click", organized by the Inter-American Development Bank, the Centre for Microdata from the U. Chile and the CEPPE of Catholic University of Chile. The studies presented by international and national speakers pointed in the same direction: the challenge is not technological but educational. It is not asking whether or not to incorporate technologies, or less what technology, but how to seize the opportunities that ICT use will give us to improve educational outcomes.

The Simce test results released days ago, only confirm the urgent need to concentrate efforts and resources on improving learning outcomes. Despite successes in extending coverage, schools fail to reverse, and in some cases areemphasizing, the differences of social origin.

In the seminar of course, especially after to learn the experiences of using ICTs in education in Korea, Uruguay, and Maine, the idea that round is to deliver one computer to each student. This also carries the hopes and fears that this strategy wake up for each one.

Probably in 10 years we will look towards 2010 and we wonder why we allocate so much time discussing something so obvious: who could doubt the benefits that each child had a computer and internet connection? Will be as absurd as asking why there are computers in banks, travel agencies or hospitals.

Access to a computer for every student is a matter of time. Soon. And the question today is whether Chile is preparing to make this change a chance. This requires of schools able to deliver content and methods renewed by-product of coherent policies, implemented by trained teachers and principals and accompanied by families involved and committed and enthusiastic students and protagonists of their learning.

Chile can afford the "luxury" to consider the delivery of one computer to each student? Doing so will cost approximately $ 250 million annually. Does it seem a lot? Put it in perspective. That figure represents 0.15% of annual Gross Domestic Product of Chile or the equivalent of 3% of the annual budget of the Ministry of Education.

Not all of this amount is enough to fresh resources. Adding the current budget of Enlaces (ICT in education program of Education Ministry), the printing and distribution of textbooks and printing and distribution of Simce Tests, to mention only those most obviously benefit from the advantages of the initiative, and would be available about 20% of the necessary resources.

In Latin America, are developing such a strategy in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti and Mexico. In the developed world, has been successfully implemented in Spain, Portugal, USA and Canada. A few months ago, the IDB and the OECD organized an international conference in Austria, whose sole purpose was to learn from the experiences already developed for delivery of computers for students and enlighten the preparation of projects in other countries.

One concern regarding this type of project, is whether are the local context and appropriate institutional environment. In other words, if there is strength in the country to support the project with a digital content industry, technological support and technical assistance, legal frameworks and long term policies. Several countries have seen this apprehension as an opportunity for the country, creating a cluster around, and therefore linking the efforts of competitiveness, employment, innovation and productive development.

In short, Chile has a mature development of access and use of ICTs in the school system, and is urgently trying to provide solutions to improving quality. The distribution of computers to all students is a reasonable cost to the country's development standards and is an opportunity to offer a disruptive strategy regarding current educational practices, which have failed to move a point, despite the resources invested in reasonable policies and programs. A policy along these lines, considering all the variables and consistently integrated with educational policy, would be a bold and innovative attempt to shatter the school system.

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