Jim Wyss (The Miami Herald) reports that, as school children head back to class, Venezuela expects to deploy more than 900,000 free government-issued laptops, adding that the Canaima initiative “puts the nation at the cutting-edge of the MIT-inspired educational philosophy called one laptop per child.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has vowed to give every elementary-school student—more than five million of them—a free personal computer. If the government meets that target, Venezuela would join Uruguay as the only country in the world to fully embrace the goals of the so-called one laptop per child program.
Since inaugurating the initiative in 2009, Venezuela has issued more than 750,000 of the rugged blue and white laptops called Canaimas. During the current school year the government expects to deliver at least 900,000 more machines and plans to deploy 3 million by 2012 — putting it at the vanguard of a worldwide educational movement. [. . .] The computers have 8.9-inch screens, built-in cameras, wireless cards and one gigabyte of memory. They also come loaded with open-source, Venezuela-produced educational software. While most of the laptops are imported from Portugal, Venezuela is ramping up a factory that will churn out 500,000 Canaimas per year. “One day we may even export them,” Chávez mused on television.
Venezuela’s Ministry of Science and Technology, which runs the program, did not respond to multiple interview requests. But it’s clear that Venezuela is buying into an educational philosophy that is catching on globally. By encouraging children to take their Internet-enabled laptops home, the theory is that their natural curiosity will spur learning in an increasingly connected world.
“With a computer lab, you might be able to teach a child how to use a computer but the child will never get to the point where the computer is facilitating learning,” said Robert Hacker, the chief financial officer of the One Laptop Per Child Association, or OLPC, which helped spark the movement.
Started in Boston by MIT Professor Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC recently moved their commercial operations to Miami. The non-profit organization makes solid laptops designed to be massively deployed in the developing world. Their XO laptops cost $209 and some 2 million machines have been distributed in more than 40 countries. The organization’s biggest success has been in Uruguay, where 98 percent of all elementary school students have XO laptops.
While the organization is not involved in the Canaima project, there has been some informal communication with the Venezuelan government, Hacker said. OLPC also provides consulting services to countries even when they are not using XO laptops.
“One of the most significant realizations that we’ve made is that the key to a good one-to-one deployment is teacher training,” Hacker said. Without supervision and constant updates, the laptop programs can sometimes go adrift. “All of the one-to-one deployments that have been done without OLPC struggle with trying to realize the educational and learning benefits that they hoped for,” he said. [. . .] The chokepoint, as the government sees it, is access to the Internet. That’s why the administration is focused on expanding its fiber-optic network from 200 to 700 municipalities over the next few years. It’s also rolling out a plan that would subsidize the Internet for the nation’s poorest, he said. [. . .] The Canaima project has yet to reach its full potential, but it’s clear that it has been a hit with the families that have benefited from the program.
For full article, see http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/09/19/2415422/venezuela-hands-out-thousands.html