Children in Uraguay have been taking lessons, exams and doing homework with a new learning tool, as the country became the first to give every primary school pupil a laptop. Today 380,000 children in Uruguay’s primary school system have a simple and cheap XO laptop, a model developed by One Laptop Per Child, a US aid agency.
The project has allowed many families access to the world of computers and the internet for the first time. About 70% of the XO model laptops handed out by the government were given to children who did not have computers at home. The hope is that the £160 machines will help poorer and disadvantaged children do better in school while also improving the overall standard of education in the south American country. The scheme has been rolled out to pupils and teachers over the last two years and president Tabaré Vázquez presented the final XO model laptops to pupils at a school in Montevideo on Monday.
At Escuela 95, in a poor neighbourhood of Montevideo, pupils have had the XO computers for a year. They have been a great help to the 30 children with severe learning difficulties, said Elias Portugal, a special-needs teacher at the school. He said before they were introduced, he struggled to give them individual attention. Now, the laptops are helping them with basic language skills. “The machines capture the kids’ attention,” he told The Economist magazine. “They can type a word and the computer pronounces it,” he says. "It's been a revolution, which has helped us enormously, but it hasn't been easy,” said Lourdes Bardino, head teacher of Escuela 173 in Las Piedras.
At the start, some teachers didn’t like the idea of the XO laptops, she said. "We have a lady who's been teaching for 30 years and when they gave us the computers and the training, she asked for leave because she didn't want to have anything to do with the programme, Ms Bardino told the BBC. “Later she changed her mind and now computers have changed the way she teaches." "This is not simply the handing out of laptops or an education programme. It is a programme which seeks to reduce the gap between the digital world and the world of knowledge," explained Miguel Brechner, the organiser. In the run up to Uruguay's general election on 25 October, the project is being promoted as an achievement of the Tabaré Vázquez government. The yearly cost of maintaining the programme, including an information portal for pupils and teachers, will be just £13 per child.
By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children