Latin America Leads in School Laptops
The massive delivery of free laptops for schoolchildren -- begun on an experimental basis nearly three years ago in
Last month, Brazil announced a bid to buy 1.5 million laptops for elementary school children.
According to projections from the
"This is an unstoppable trend, whether you like it or not,"
But will the laptop avalanche impact be unequivocally positive? I asked several other experts. To my surprise, many of them criticized these programs. Among their comments:
-- First, delivering millions of laptops to schoolchildren who in some cases are malnourished will do little good. Before we give them laptops, we should give them breakfast, so that they go to school with an alert mind, they say.
-- Second, giving out laptops to millions of children without first training teachers on how to use them as tools to improve learning will be a waste of money. After the novelty is gone, schools will abandon the laptops, and Latin American countries will become the world's biggest "laptop graveyards," critics say.
-- Third, the Internet will introduce pornography, violence and wild conspiracy theories in millions of poorly educated households. Most middle-class children who enter a Nazi Internet website, for instance, have parents who can act as counterweights, and tell them that racial hatred is evil. But what will happen with children with parents who are rarely at home, or are not culturally prepared to give them guidance?
Supporters of the laptop for schoolchildren programs counter that government programs to feed children and provide them with laptops are not mutually exclusive -- you should do both. You cannot wait until all children have shoes to start building roads, they say.
Regarding teacher training, supporters say that countries are already doing that, although in many cases governments have been too quick to deliver laptops -- with an eye on the next election -- and too slow to invest in teacher training. As for pornography and off-the-wall websites, supporters say the laptops have filters, at the very least, for pornography sites.
Most importantly, the laptops are stimulating children's curiosity, promoting self-learning, and forcing teachers to upgrade their skills in order to keep up with their students, supporters say.
Critics make reasonable points, but the laptop avalanche may be the best thing happening in
It's a technological shock that will shake the region's outdated school systems and their almighty teachers' unions, which are a major reason why
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