Laptops for Children in Peru and Uruguay

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project is targeting Peru and Uruguay.

Peru’s distribution of more than 800,000 low-cost laptop computers children across the country easily ranks as one of the world’s most ambitious efforts to leverage digital technology in the fight against poverty. Yet five years into the program, there are serious doubts about whether the largest single deployment in the One Laptop Per Child initiative was worth the more than $200 million that Peru’s government spent.

Ill-prepared rural teachers were often unable to fathom, much less teach with the machines, software bugs didn’t get fixed and most had no way to connect to the Internet. Many could not take the computers home as the initiative intended. And some schools even lacked electricity to keep them running.

The OLPC project has encountered obstacles in Uruguay, too.

The first 50,000 laptops arrived loaded with software in English, not Spanish. 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.

The biggest technical problem is connectivity. The government reported last month that in 70% of primary schools only half the laptops can go online at the same time. Two out of five rural schools have no connection, and will have to bus their students elsewhere for the exam. Many of Uruguay’s teachers, a rather elderly bunch, find it hard to cope with new technology.

Sceptics would rather the government concentrate on making teachers more accountable. But most admit the laptops are worth a try. They should prompt a shift away from rote learning and towards critical analysis, says Edith Moraes, the official in charge of primary schools. They extend Uruguay’s egalitarianism to computing. They should be seen merely as a means to the end of better schooling.

Commentator GritaFuego points out the real problem that laptops from rich countries won’t fix.

There might have been more urgent expenditures than cheap laptops for primary students. Education infrastructure is decaying, teacher salaries are low, and their syndicate (as all syndicates since 2005) has managed to keep its unfair privileges. Teachers are not accountable for results or performance. Like all public employees. This undermines the potential of students and is a major obstacle to the effective improvement of our education system.

“Syndicates” is the Spanish term for a labor union. The basic problem with all Latin American countries is syndicalism; labor unions are too powerful. Latins will remain richer than India and China but won’t ascend to the ranks of rich countries until labor power is curbed. Wikipedia defines syndicalism:

Syndicalism is a type of economic system proposed as a replacement for capitalism and an alternative to state socialism, which uses federations of collectivised trade unions or industrial unions. It is a form of socialist economic corporatism that advocates interest aggregation of multiple non-competitive categorised units to negotiate and manage an economy.

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