Wednesday, April 27, 2011

One-to-One Laptop Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean

The introduction of technology in education is gaining momentum worldwide. One model of incorporating technology into education that has gained tremendous traction in Latin America and the Caribbean is One-to-One computing. The term "One-to-One" refers to the ratio of digital devices per child so that each child is provided with a digital device, most often a laptop, to facilitate learning.

The objective of One-to-One Laptop Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean document is to provide an overview of One-to-One implementations with a regional focus on Latin America and the Caribbean. It also proposes a systemic approach to improve the quality of education in contexts of mass laptop distributions to students and teachers.

The rationales for implementing One-to-One initiatives are frequently clouded by short-term political goals or by pressure from technology vendors. Nevertheless, from what the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has observed, the rationales and desired impact of One-to-One initiatives fall into three main categories:
  1. From an economic perspective, technology is seen as playing a major role in both the production processes and the results that these processes yield. Through the introduction of effective laptop programs, students can be better prepared to enter a technology-saturated workplace, maintaining a level of economic competitiveness.
  2. From a social perspective, laptops in schools are seen as a way to help bridge social and digital divides. They also have the potential to provide computer and Internet access to families and community members who would not otherwise have access.
  3. From an educational perspective, it is believed that laptops can facilitate new educational practices that are student-centered. They may also support the development of new skills and abilities required in the 21st century.
One-to-One models have been implemented in many Latin American and Caribbean countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad & Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela. This paper provides an overview of these cases and others worldwide.

The manners by which One-to-One programs have been designed, implemented, and evaluated are very diverse. Thus far, research has been inconclusive with regards to the economic, social, and educational impacts of One-to-One programs due to short time spans, lack of appropriate evaluation methodologies, and lack of commitment to study impact, among other reasons.

Since results vary with time and implementation, impacts should be evaluated over short-, mid-, and long-term time spans. Given the IDB's experience with One-to-One initiatives in the region, we propose:
  • A model of understanding One-to-One that focuses on the student and his/her learning results. Rather than describing the relationship between the digital device and the child, we describe One-to-One as the relationship between a child and learning, mediated by technology among other factors.
  • A systemic approach to One-to-One design and implementation that simultaneously considers infrastructure, digital content, teacher training/support, community involvement, and policy. 
  • A general review of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) associated with these initiatives, which considers both the initial investment and its long-term sustainability.
  • An emphasis on the role of monitoring and rigorous evaluations.
There is no silver bullet in education; in this sense, technology is no different from other learning interventions. The distribution of equipment alone will not have any effect on learning outcomes, unless it is considered as part of comprehensive reform processes, focusing on learning and explicitly proposes the change of traditional educational practices.

The report is available to download in various formats:

(Compatible with
iBook, Nook, Kobo, and others)
(Compatible with 
Adobe Reader)
(Compatible with
 Kindle, Sony Reader, and others)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Computers and Learning

Can technology help to improve the quality of education? This is the question that led us at the Inter-American Development Bank to produce a report on currently available knowledge on assessments and experiences in this subject around the world. (Escuelas y Computadores: por qué los gobiernos deben hacer su tarea, Berlinski, Busso, Cristia y Severin. BID, 2011)

Clearly, Latin America and the Caribbean face an ongoing challenge in improving educational quality. Hopes that this technology can produce better results in the classroom have led to many projects and initiatives.

Our report focuses on the efforts made in Latin America beginning with the creation of computer labs in the early 1990s to the tremendous growth in the field, which today includes the option of providing a computer for each student (“One to One” models).

The focus generally used in the region has consisted of proposing investments in technology as a new educational input that includes installing machines in schools, providing technical training for teachers in their use, and making digital educational resources available through web portals.

This approach has had a rather low impact if one examines test results. Evaluations and studies so far indicate that the use of technology has produced modest improvements in language and no gains in math.
On the other hand, teachers as well as students have made significant advances in the management of technology as well as in higher-level skills, such critical thinking and collaboration.

However, the question remains whether technology can help provide the qualitative educational gains we all desire. We know that changes in education take place over the long term, and some of these initiatives—especially the “One to One” models—have not been underway for long, with the result that we really probably cannot judge the impacts they are having.

It is also relevant to ask how well we are judging these impacts. The lack of adequate tools for measuring many of the skills that technology is supposed to support, and insufficient rigor in evaluating the initiatives, have contributed to the lack of clarity on the subject.

Probably the best explanation for the modest results is precisely this concept of computers as an additional input in the school environment, and one that will magically improve educational results.

Consider this. If these investments are not included as part of comprehensive policies; if teachers are not trained (either initially or in-service) in how to make use of the opportunities that technology offers; if innovative educational resources capable of changing the behavior of teachers and students are not made available; if technologies are not used to improve communication and the involvement of families in the school; if new platforms that offer personalized attention for each student in line with their interests and abilities are not offered…

Then I don’t see how anyone can expect that technology—on its own—can make a difference in education. As Albert Einstein said, “If you want different results, you’ve got to do things differently.”

Until now, most of the initiatives reviewed in our report are carried out in schools as an “extra,” or a “bonus track.” In this regard, they have been treated as inputs isolated from the rest of the pedagogical and educational strategy. As a result, schools, teachers, and students have gone about business as usual, now with the addition of computers, but without real changes in teaching methods and few changes in learning.
The use of technology in education is a relevant economic decision.

Despite a gradual reduction in costs for equipment and connectivity, technology still represents a huge burden for the countries of Latin America, which on average spend US$622 a year per student. Considering that investment in computer labs costs some US$30 annually per student, a serious and complete “One to One” program would represent an annual cost of at least US$150 per student.

For these reasons, it is essential to perform a rigorous design of these strategies.

Use of technology continues to represent a key opportunity for achieving quality education as well as being an undeniable component of education in the 21st century. It is crucially important to learn from past experiences, and above all, to understand that problems cannot be solved by simple or magical solutions. If technology is not part of a systemic strategy of improvements, we will continue to wait in vain for computers in schools to turn boys and girls into citizens of the knowledge society.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Educating for the future

For some time I believe that many of our educational leaders have promoted reforms in our educational systems thinking in a logic of "enhancements" to a system designed centuries ago, without asking whether it remains an appropriate response to the needs of the XXI century.

With the best intentions, our reformers have focused on "patching"the educational system, to return to deliver the level of quality that supposedly once had. But it is not the system (managers, teachers, school time, computers, books), but of education. Be returning to the fundamental question: For what world are we preparing students today?
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