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Human Resources

Dan Swinhoe (South America) - IT & Education in LatAm

Where perhaps in places such as the UK it may be linked with ‘paperless' workspaces, IT & Education in Latin America revolves around the greater social problem of the digital divide. While the large majority of the Western World has access to the internet, whether from mobile, laptop, library or school, things are very different in countries such as Mexico. The Mexican Internet Association estimates that around 70% of the population has no access to the internet.

At one end, the rise of tech hubs in cities across LatAm means compananies are looking for coders and social media gurus, while the other end sees thousands of people who have never even touched a computer. Though governments are trying to address the imbalance, it's not enough to simply hand out laptops - also known as "Dump hardware, hope for magic to happen". There needs to be a concerted effect to educate children in their use - there's no real benefit from simply typing out an essay instead of writing one - and support the infrastructure around them; ensuring access to the internet and promoting the right portals that provide access to e-learning and information.

Proof of this was in a report published last year looking at the results of a One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program conducted in Peru. It that showed while the ratio of computers per student increased from 0.12 to 1.18, no effects were seen on Math & Language test scores, though positive effects were seen in general cognitive skills and verbal fluency. As one of the researchers noted, there's very little information on how the computers were integrated into everyday learning, and access to the internet was very limited. Without adequate computer literacy (or efforts to improve it), adding computers to education is as effective as adding board markers to classrooms using chalkboards.

In the schools that do have access to computers, studies show that although teachers know how to use them, translating this into better education is more difficult, often because computers are installed in labs rather than individual classrooms, making it more difficult to integrate ICT into regular lessons. The OLPC programs are trying to fix this with a 1:1 child/computer ratio, and have distributed devices in the millions, but as the above study suggests, it's far from a fix-all, and also very expensive. One way around this is mobile learning. Estimates put mobile phone ownership among 10-18-year-olds at over 80% in the region, and many schools are implementing initiatives around the concept.

Another advantage of bringing IT into education is that it enables remote learning. Enrolment and attendance in LatAm schools has risen steadily in recent years, especially in rural areas, but there is still a disparity between urban and rural figures. This is often due to socioeconomic reasons such as poverty levels - the people are poorer, the schools are often far away and lacking resources. Introducing technology helps overcome some resource issues, and for children too far away, enables the possibility of remote learning.

Though technology in education is an enabler, it doesn't solve all problems. As the Council on Hemispheric Affairs put it; "the digital divide is not a problem that can be fixed by having more desktop computers in homes." Better infrastructure, addressing poverty, and ensuring technology is woven into, along with a concerted push to improve education, both in terms of access and quality is what is really needed. 

By Dan Swinhoe, Editorial Assistant, IDG Connect

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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