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IDB evaluates effectiveness of computer use in classrooms

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has commissioned impact evaluation studies of programs expanding the use of computers in classrooms in seven Latin American countries, including Uruguay, the only country in the world where every child in the public education system has access to a computer.

The studies aim to establish a firm knowledge based on the results of using information and communications technologies in classrooms, with the long-term goal of developing a model that can be replicated successfully at a <?xml:namespace prefix = st2 />regional level. According to IDB estimates, by the end of 2015 some 30 million students in Latin America may have personal computers or smart phones in their classrooms to assist them in learning.

In addition to Uruguay, programs that use computers in classrooms have been set up in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Paraguay and Haiti. In Haiti, a $3 million donation from the IDB in 2008 financed a pilot project to give computers to 13,200 children and 500 teachers in 60 primary schools, in partnership with the One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC).

The Plan Ceibal, which made Uruguay the first country in the world to give a computer to all students in the classroom, has brought international attention to the South American nation. It is “a pioneering experience for Latin America and the world,” said IDB president Luis Alberto <?xml:namespace prefix = st3 />Moreno, as he opened a seminar on the use of information and communications technology in the classroom, held at IDB headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The IDB could give additional support to Uruguay’s program once it gets the results of the impact evaluation study. “We hope to help the Plan Ceibal grow,” Moreno said, “supporting it as it becomes stronger and expands, and contributing our experience with regard to follow-up and evaluation, thus enabling it to be used as a reference for the region.”

The Uruguayan initiative was analyzed in yesterday’s seminar, Reinventing the Classroom: Social and Educational Impact of Information and Communications Technologies in Education, attended by around one hundred experts in information and communications technologies (ICTs) from academia, multilateral organizations and governments throughout the region.

The seminar was attended by the president of Uruguay, Tabaré Vázquez, the president of the One Laptop per Child Foundation, Nicholas Negroponte, Microsoft’s vice president for technology policy and strategy, Anoop Gupta, and other high-level guests who examined national efforts to incorporate ICTs into educational systems.

Moreno welcomed the participants, emphasizing that innovation in education is a priority for the Bank’s actions today. ICTs, he added, are central to a revolution driven by the globalization of society and the growth of education. They energize production, increase integration and provide access to information and knowledge in ways never seen before. “ICTs are an incredibly powerful instrument, just as the wheel, the printing press and the steam engine once were,” Moreno said. “They change society permanently.”

Vázquez discussed his country’s experience with the Plan Ceibal, which required an enormous effort to involve and train Uruguayan teachers, as well as an impressive logistical operation to put computers into students’ hands.

In addition to Uruguay’s experience, other initiatives discussed at the seminar were Portugal’s Magellan Project, the Plan San Luis Digital from Argentina’s San Luis province, and Brazil’s Paraná Digital project.

Both the IDB’s impact evaluation studies and the seminar have the same goal, which is to seek out the best practices for establishing a replicable model with measurable results.

“At the end of 2015, half of Latin America’s school-age children will probably have a technological device that supports their learning efforts,” said Marcelo Cabrol, head of the IDB’s Education Division, as he opened the seminar’s technical sessions. What this means, he concluded, is that “the entire educational experience must be changed.”