Marking 10 years of bridging digital divide

China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-16 08:14

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay - Uruguay is celebrating the 10th anniversary of a program that has made internet available to the masses by providing all elementary school students with a laptop.

The national program, called Plan Ceibal, launched in collaboration with a global nonprofit called One Laptop Per Child, made Uruguay "the first country in the world to provide one laptop to every primary school student," according to OLPC's website.

"I must admit that, at the beginning, I never imagined a plan so complete and well executed," OLPC's founder, Nicholas Negroponte, said during a visit to Montevideo this week.

Negroponte, who was born in the United States and is also the founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, said one of the factors that helped to make the plan such a success was President Tabare Vazquez, who was serving his first term when the plan was adopted.

Vazquez, who announced the plan in December 2006, was adamant about the scope of the program, insisting it should cover every child, according to the state Uruguayan News Agency.

"Nobody else did that. That is extraordinary," said Negroponte.

The first green-and-white laptops, which cost $100 to make, were distributed in May 2007 at a school in the town of Villa Cardal, in the southern department of Florida, home to just 500 inhabitants. But soon schoolchildren throughout the country had a "ceibalita", as the laptops were called.

Miguel Brechner, the president of the laptop scheme, said before the initiative that "only 9 percent of children from the poorest households had access to a computer. Today, more than 90 percent of that population does."

Thanks to its effectiveness, Plan Ceibal was expanded to secondary school students and since 2016 has been used to teach the elderly.

According to Negroponte, two other factors helped make the program a success, including developing infrastructure, which state telecom Antel was tasked with carrying out.

The third factor was the country's belief in the advantages of promoting equality, he said.

Uruguay "has become the byword" for progressive educational programs, he said, predicting that "in 20 years, Uruguay will be producing the world's most creative people."


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