Uruguay has a lot of firsts under its belt. It was the first Latin American nation to establish a welfare state, the first host and winner of the FIFA World Cup in 1930, the first ranked South American country for transparency, and the first country to provide every primary school child in the country with a connected laptop. This final first was achieved in 2009 through a scheme called Plan Ceibal in partnership with the organization One Laptop Per Child. Through the program, 395 000 children in public schools from Grades 1-6 had laptops by the end of 2009. Today, all primary and secondary school students in Uruguay have laptops. The goal of Plan Ceibal was to bridge the digital divide and inequities between children from families of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Yet while this program was implemented with high hopes, its impact was surprisingly bleak. A 2014 study conducted by the Universidad de la República´s Economics Institute in Uruguay revealed that Plan Ceibal did not have any impact on reading and math scores in the country. Here’s why the program fell short of its goals and what benefit it is bringing to students in Uruguay today:
Why did Plan Ceibal fail to increase students’ academic scores? Students in Uruguay simply stopped using their laptops. While 41% of students used their laptops every day in 2009, only 4% used them daily in 2012. Most of those still using their computers regularly utilized them for recreational purposes but not to support their learning. This drop in use has been linked to a lack of incorporating computer-assisted learning into school curriculum. As the World Bank’s 2017 report on learning stresses the need for technology to complement teachers, it’s not a surprise that segregating computers and classroom learning did not lead to any lasting results.
What benefit have these laptops brought? Children have gained valuable computer skills through Plan Ceibal, which is important in an era where employment is often dependent on digital literacy. Beyond this,Ceibal en Inglés was created to deliver interactive videoconference English language lessons to schools in Uruguay. This plan hopes to address the lack of English teachers in the country and to offer the opportunity for students to learn an additional language. Through working with local teachers and using digital materials on the students’ laptops, this program is a step towards bringing technology and classroom-based learning together.