The Argentine government recently launched a programme to give three million students across the country access to their own 'netbook' laptop by 2012, a scheme which will also require the installation of wireless internet in schools across the country and involve an investment of $750 million. The first 500,000 computers will be delivered this year.
The Ministry of Education's initiative was described by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as 'revolutionary'. She went on to say that the programme would become a powerful tool for digital literacy in public schools.
The investment of $750 million will cover the purchase of equipment, adaptation of schools to wireless Internet access, training of teachers and the maintenance of the netbooks. 'Our generation accessed information through books, but kids today do it via the web,' continued the President in a speech broadcast on national TV. 'We should not be horrified that a child is capable of being in front of the computer for several hours at a stretch. What we have to understand is that they have found a new tool.'
The government has been working on the project since 2005, when Argentina was added to the proposal by US researcher Nicholas Negroponte, known as 'One laptop per child'. That project foundered because Negroponte and the businesses working with him were unable to build an efficient computer at the promised price of $100 each. Despite the setback, Argentina's Ministers of Education Daniel Filmus, Jorge Alberto Tedesco and Sileoni have in turn continued to work on pilot projects in seven provinces.
There has already been one success story in Latin America. In 2006 Uruguay came up with its own project, known as Plan Ceibal ('Education Connect'), using a laptop based on that designed by Negroponte, but produced at more than twice the cost ($230 per netbook). Over the past two years 362,000 pupils and 18,000 teachers have been involved in the scheme, which was so successful that it gave a significant boost to the ruling Frente Amplio party and the candidacy of the current president, Jose 'Pepe' Mujica.
Argentina's scheme is more ambitious for two reasons: it will distribute almost three million netbooks, and the computers are technically superior. Furthermore, students will be allowed to keep their netbook when they complete their secondary education. The computers will have a control system that disables its operation in case of theft, loss, or if the user systematically uses the machine for purposes outside the jurisdiction of education. Teachers will also have a special programme that will allow them to monitor what each student does on the computer during class.