MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – The Educational Connectivity of Basic Information for Online Learning Program, better known as Plan Ceibal, has provided a computer to every public primary and secondary school student nationwide, changing the way they study, learn and play video games.
Plan Ceibal has revolutionized the educational system, as the Internet is available at 99% of the country’s 4,375 primary and secondary schools in the South American nation of about 3.25 million.
“There are still 70 schools in rural areas that have no electricity,” Gonzalo Pérez Piaggio, Plan Ceibal’s general manager. “In those cases, we will use whatever means possible to get them access to the Internet, even if it means having the National Telecommunications Administration (Antel) use a satellite.”
Lucía Rivero, a fifth-grade student in the nation’s capital of Montevideo, studies and plays games on her XO computer, which she has personalized with colored stickers.
“I search for images, information and games of all types,” Rivero, 10, said.
Rivero received her computer in October 2007, when she was a first-grader at School No. 81. When she entered third grade, she transferred to School No. 2, taking her XO with her.
Rivero is one of the country’s 590,000 primary and secondary school students who received a personal computer through Plan Ceibal.
“The Plan Ceibal has already accomplished one of its first objectives, which was to bridge the digital gap for students in public primary and secondary schools,” Pérez Piaggio said.
The success of Plan Ceibal in public schools prompted 94 private schools to join the initiative in 2011. Plan Ceibal charged private schools about US$173 per computer, the same cost to public schools.
Eighty-five percent of low-income households in Uruguay have a student with at least one XO computer, but 90% of middle-to-high income households own a more advanced computer, according to the 2010 Second National Report on the Monitoring and Evaluation of Plan Ceibal.
The XO’s software is designed for children, though it has less memory than a regular personal computer. The XO also includes a microphone and camera.
“We’ve managed to give all children access to this tool, regardless of their social class,” Pérez Piaggio said. “The technological disparity vanished. There’s equal opportunity to get ahead when it comes to technology.”
Rivero mainly uses her computer to surf the web, which she can also do at home since she lives next to a school with a wireless network.
Ceibal’s goal for 2012 is to make sure no child travels more than 900 feet to find connectivity, Pérez Piaggio said, adding Antel, the government’s telecommunications company, has already installed fiber-optic Internet connection in 350 public schools, and expects to connect another 450 by the end of 2012.
Plan Ceibal also is working toward creating more content that can be taught on personal computers in classrooms. Officials also want information technology (IT) included in the curriculum so students can keep up with the field, said José Seoane, president of the Central Education Council.
“The challenge now is finding a creative and productive way to incorporate IT to the educational practices,” he said.
So far, the results of Plan Ceibal have been positive, according to Luis Garibaldi, the director of education at the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC).
“Teachers must take full ownership of the program,” he said.
Plan Ceibal led to the country’s first Math Olympics, in which 25,000 fifth- and sixth-grade students competed using a downloaded program on their XO computers, Pérez Piaggio said, adding the game was downloaded 120,000 times.
This year, Ceibal will introduce English classes in 23 schools located in rural areas by means of video conferencing, online courses and long-distance teaching, Miguel Brechner, president of the Plan Ceibal, said.
“The software that will be introduced allows the teacher to work from his laptop for all [students to follow], and for him to speak directly to them, to give presentations and correct what they’re doing,” Brechner added.