Exploring Uruguay: Students to investigate ‘One Laptop Per Child’ initiative in new mini-term

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By Alagra Bass

Professors Moyano, Seri, and Traver have been sharing information about a new mini-term to Uruguay in which students will explore the country’s “One Child, One Laptop” initiative.  Below, Professor Traver shares information about the program and the mini-term.

 

What is the Uruguay One Child, One Laptop Program? How did it originate?

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is a non-profit organization that was started by a MIT faculty member to develop cheap and durable laptops for children. The vision was to sell these laptops to the governments of developing nations, who would distribute them to poor children to empower them to gain a better education.  Their official mission:  “The goal of the foundation is to provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment, and express themselves. To that end, OLPC is designing a laptop, educational software, manufacturing base, and distribution system to provide children outside of the first-world with otherwise unavailable technological learning opportunities.”

The first model is called the “XO laptop” and costs about $200. Uruguay, a small country of three million people, is the first country to fully implement the program. They call their program “Plan Ciebal” (the name comes from a national tree and flower). The goal of the program is to contribute to “social inclusion” by bridging the digital divide in their country. Uruguay has other initiatives that are designed to contribute to this goal as well.

 

How exactly does the program work? Who are the sponsors or volunteers?

There are several national organizations involved in the implementation of the program, each with their own role (technical, research and assessment, training, etc).

 

Is this initiative only in Uruguay or has it spread to other areas as well?

Many other countries have pilot projects, including the U.S.!

 

Where do the laptops go (in the homes or schools, etc)?

In Uruguay, the XO laptops are distributed to elementary children and to their teachers. They are encouraged to bring the laptops home and teach parents and community members how to use them.

 

Is there an age group the laptop program is geared towards benefiting? Does it depend on economic status or some other qualifications?

All elementary grade children receive them, regardless of economic status. The program is planned to extend to the high schools soon.

 

Who can help? And how?

The OLPC program offers internships, and at least one Union student has alreadt participated. Since the XO laptop uses an open source operating system, anyone who can program can help by developing new applications for the laptop.

 

Where could one find more information about the program?

The OLPC Wiki: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/The_OLPC_Wiki, and the Plan Ciebal web page (in Spanish): http://www.ceibal.edu.uy.

 

What is your evaluation of the program? What do you hope to see it achieve?

These are the questions that our students will be asking during the mini-term, with the goal of finding a way for Union students to contribute to the program.

 

What relation does the program have to the mini-term?

Plan Ceibal is the theme of the mini-term to Uruguay. It is an ideal opportunity for Union students to witness an innovative new national initiative and to consider the question of how best to use their skills to help. In the first offering, students will research and evaluate the needs of the program, and work closely with peers from the Universidad de la Republica to understand how their support program works. This University support program is called “Flor de Ciebo” and consists of several teams of faculty and students working together to advance the program.

 

Are you excited?

There is a growing group of faculty who are very interested in the mini-term, from technical, political, cultural, educational, and other perspectives. It is an ideal opportunity for faculty and students from multiple disciplines to work and learn together.

 

Anything else we should know about this initiative, others like it, or the mini-term?

It is also a great opportunity for faculty and students to learn more about Uruguay and its people, and by extension, Latin America. Students and faculty interested in improving their Spanish language skills will also benefit.

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