ALT-C 2011 Keynote: Miguel Brechner, One laptop per child

The first session of the ALT conference was the Keynote by Miguel Brechner, the President of the Uruguayan Centre for Technological and Social Inclusion. He discussed Plan Ceibal, the project which is supplying one laptop per child to the pupils of Uruguay. The impact of project is comparable to Sugata Mitra‘s (conference Co-Chair) Hole in the wall project. This video highlights the approach and the impact the project is having in Uruguay.

The project has delivered 450,000 laptops (99% with internet access) to students in 2500 schools across the country. He described the project not as a laptop project, but a educational and social initiative to provide equality. He said the initiative was only possible because of the support it has received from the government and the President.

I found the impact the project has had on the country’s internet access one of the best outcomes. This graph, that Miguel showed during his presentation, original source World Bank, shows internet user (per 100).

Uruguay intenet use

The graph show a dramatic rise since the start of the project in 2007. Patriotically, I was impressed to discover the UK has the highest level in the world. The nice thing about this graphic in the context of Plan Ceibal is one of the quotes from Miguel, that he believed “broadband access is a human right”.

I do have some reservations of the sustainability of the project, there are obviously overheads associated with the project with maintenance of the machines. Furthermore the tech will become obsolete before the children finish schooling and will need replacing. Will this highlight the need for a Cloud storage infrastructure to enable learners to store their work, not entrapping it to the machines.

My final concern for the project, considering the “colder climbs”, heaven forbid the project is not ccontinued and country can’t afford to supply future generations with computers, will this create a digital divide?

Getting away from my pessimism, the story of this project was inspirational and perfectly motivated the ALT community for the conference ahead, with many tweets reflecting this and also calling for similar schemes to be implemented in the UK, including this one from Becka Colley

Becka Colley "start a revolution" tweet

Although I feel similar schemes should be supported by the government in the UK, there is little chance of a laptop-per-(every)child in the UK. The reason the scheme has been so successful in Uruguay is because it is a small country: Population 3300000, GDP per capita US$ 13000 and Children in Primary School 300000. To scale this up-to country of a size of the UK would require a massive investment. However possible initiatives with poorer social-economic communities could be feasible, especially to prevent a digital divide, considering the ever increase personal device ownership.

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