Technological literacy has become a standard in the modern workforce, and in the future it stands to increase in importance as the world moves into a wired era. The Uruguayan government has shown that it is very attuned to this fact, and its efforts to provide one laptop to every public primary-school child in Uruguay proves that it is paying the future due heed. The XO model laptops, which are currently being distributed, were developed for Uruguay in conjunction with the One Laptop Per Child organization.
The Uruguayan program, which will provide hundreds of thousands of laptops to Uruguay’s schoolchildren, does so at a reasonable initial cost of $260 per child plus $21 per year per child to maintain the program. At less than $300 per child and less than five percent of Uruguay’s total education budget, their government has managed to give the country’s youth a chance to become technologically proficient in a world where a basic understanding of technology is quickly becoming a prerequisite to success.
The structure of the program has less tangible, but still important, benefits to children beyond the fact that it grants them access to technological literacy. Providing children with laptops of their own gives them a sense of agency that simply cannot be achieved through computer labs or computer classes alone. Personal ownership gives these children the ability to access a wealth of information about themselves and their surroundings outside of the classroom as well.
The program must overcome several obstacles, like training less technologically adept teachers to use the computers in classrooms and providing adequate Internet access. There will likely be problems with maintaining the computers and making sure that students have access to new computers when some of the machines inevitably meet an untimely end. As The Economist notes, “When poor, rural children wreck theirs, they often prefer to keep their new status symbol clutched to their chests than risk the postal service not returning it promptly from the central maintenance centre.” These concerns will need to be addressed quickly.
Yet the Uruguayan effort is a work in progress and demonstrates a far-sighted outlook on the part of the government that is admirable. Uruguay, of course, has other serious problems that will need to be addressed in order to maintain the welfare of its citizens. However, concern for other, perhaps more pressing, issues should not paralyze progress or prevent the country from tackling the clear lack of access to technology or high-quality education. Moreover, the Uruguayan solution should be emulated by similarly capable and equipped nations for the benefit of future generations. This is insurance for posterity and a victory for progress.