Past Meeting the Present

It is very fascinating what is happening today in Uruguay, not only in the education field, but also in society and in the economy of the country. The reality of Montevideo is very contrasting. It seems that half of the country is catching up the future; while the other half is still stuck into the past.

Many neighborhoods in the central part of Montevideo look old and careless; it is common to see garbage on the streets and sidewalks. People in general are very calm; they like to take their time to eat and to talk. Look at this fact: cafeterias in Montevideo do not sell coffee to go; if you want to drink a coffee, you have to sit and take your time. People here have another conception of time and life.

In contrast, other parts of Montevideo look very modern and pushing for the future. Zonamerica is a new complex recently developed in Montevideo. Zonamerica is a business park (free of taxes) where IT companies from Uruguay and overseas (such as Tata) have its headquarters for their regional operations.

The struggle between old habits and modernization is also present in the education system of Uruguay. The best example of this is Plan Ceibal (http://www.ceibal.edu.uy/). Plan Ceibal is a program that was launched by the government of Uruguay in 2008 and consisted in giving one laptop (from the One Laptop Per Child program) to each kid of primary and secondary level of public schools. The reality that we observed at Liceo 39 sharply contrasts with the modern headquarters of Plan Ceibal. Plan Ceibal is in a cozy building located in the wealthy zone of Carrasco. The building is very modern and everything is well organized. In contrast, Liceo 39 is settled on the poverty neighborhood of Piedras Blancas. Liceo 39 has very precarious facilities.

I want to tell you a story that better illustrates the kind of difficulties that a great idea should face when contrasted with the raw reality. The students of secondary school received their laptops, the problem is that most of the classrooms have only one electrical plug-in that 40 students have to share when the battery runs out. Plan Ceibal has faced many problems of implementation like this in other areas, such as internet connectivity at schools.

Nonetheless, I would say that the positive aspects of Plan Ceibal overpass the negative ones by far. It is normal to face such kind of problems when trying to implement a big change in the educational system, such as Plan Ceibal. The easiest would be to do nothing; but, Uruguay took the risk and decided to implement an innovative change in its educational system. Uruguay is pushing forward trying to modernize the education, economy and society, and in general the country is doing a great job. In the near future, the internet and plug-in problems should be fixed.

Roberto

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