Friday, May 27, 2011

The Education Situation: Technology

Having finally figured out the logistics of my stay here (lodging, the bank card situation), I found a chance this morning to open up the Argentine daily, Clarín, for the first time. The front page offers a “Theme of the Day,” which today was, appropriately, education. The subtext outlined that over half of Argentine primary and secondary students not only lack a computer and internet at home, but don’t even have your basic living room library either. Though it offers statistics on books as well as computers, the article is truly focused in the medium of computers and internet as the primary learning necessity. The author goes even further to say that internet access at home is not just a necessity, but a right.

In education reform class with Don Ernst this spring, one of the major themes that outlined many class discussions was what factors had most influence in the achievement of students. Was it the teachers? The parents? The financial situation? Research done by University of Washington professor Dan Goldhaber outlines that 66% of the variance in student achievement outcomes depends on the socio-economic status of the student. Of course, this intangible concept is incredibly difficult to measure, so let’s just say that a big chunk of what determines student achievement may rely on resources (in the United States), according to one study. The other factors are largely unknown, though the Goldhaber study determines that 8% of the variance is encompassed in teacher quality.

The experts being interviewed for the Clarín piece seem to agree with the notion that resources play a large part in student achievement. It seems as though Argentine urban areas have a similar problem that America’s urban cities do – many people who can afford it are going to private schools, leaving the public schools with less social investment.

In order to even the learning field, the government of Argentina has started an initiative called Conectar Igualdad that has already put 567,000 computers in the hands of high-school students. They have a goal of distributing 3 million computers in the years to come (doesn’t specify how many years).

This reminded me of one of our public programs – the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative – and had me wondering why it didn’t exist in Argentina. It seems like this country is ready for it because it already has infrastructure and intelligence to support OLPC systems and troubleshooting. So I looked it up.

It turns out that President Kirschner was indeed considering piloting OLPC in 2007, right after it was being implemented in Uruguay and other Latin American countries. With a little more scouting around, I found that in 2010, OLPC was implemented in a region called La Rioja, giving kids laptops in both rural and urban schools. The Clarín article actually did mention the success of laptop distribution in La Rioja, but did not attribute it to OLPC. Nonetheless, it did say that not only was the initiative a success for students in that province, but it was bringing families together around the pedagogical opportunities offered by the OLPC program specifically.

That’s because Intel and OLPC (with Windows interface) teamed together to outfit the computers with functions that promote learning outcomes. In other words, they are not just a medium of technology; rather, the computers were created from the ground up to foster creativity and exploration. This is done through software called “Sugar,” geared towards primary school students.

This very small bit of investigation this morning has brought me to reflect upon my own project here in Argentina. I still haven’t found out exactly what services are being offered through the High School Support Program with which I’ll be working directly. But the idea is similar to OLPC in that resources equate to better opportunities for students. However, OLPC starts with the resource which is a means to better education, whereas CruzadaArgentina (my partner org) starts with the schools (which are nuclei of rural society in Argentina) in order to promote a better work ethic and give opportunities for sustainable economic growth.

All this is really just to say…I’m really excited to start work on Monday!

The Articles:


Alana Gattis Bell said...

Your pictures are wonderful. Looks like a restful weekend on the lake. Now time to get after it. I'm rooting you on...

Techie Teacher said...

So, what about iPhones or some other smart phone? We are starting a 1 to 1 program with Verizon and netbooks, but they are also offering smart phones to students in some schools. These devices seem to be more cost effective than laptops.

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