Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Digital Divide Between the Education Systems of Cuba and Latin America / Dora Leonor Mesa

The Digital Divide Between the Education Systems of Cuba and Latin
America / Dora Leonor Mesa
Dora Leonor Mesa, Translator: jCS, Translator: Scott

One of the most relevant initiatives put forth by the Latin American
community of nations in recent years is the project "Educational Goals
2021: the education we want for the bicentennial generation" (A look at
education in Latin American (2011))

Its objective is to improve the quality of education and equity in
education in order to confront poverty and inequality, and to promote
social inclusion. It deals with an approach to as of yet unresolved
problems such as illiteracy, students leaving school early, child
labour, low student achievement, and the poor quality of public school
offerings. It attempts to confront, at the same time, the pressing
societal demand for information and knowledge: the incorporation of
information and communication technologies (TIC) in teaching and
learning, and the encouragement of innovation and creativity, and the
development of scientific research and progress (page 8).

With the aim of elaborating the afore-mentioned benchmarks of progress,
the promoters of the project "Educational Goals 2021″ considered it
necessary to begin with an analysis of the present situation, that
outlines the reality in which education finds itself in the Latin
American countries in the areas defined by the 2021 Goals. The base year
results of the study are from 2010. Some indicators include references
to previous years as it was not always possible to find the appropriate

The overview offered by the OEI (Organization of Iberoamerican States)
are solid enough to be taken as a point of reference with respect to
Cuba and the rest of Latin America. The bulk of the information in the
document is available from other institutions such as the World Bank and
the United Nations.

In the future, a number of diverse indicators will form the basis of a
comparative analysis of the impact of the information age in Latin
America and Cuba.

Average number of students per computer

The development of TIC indicators in the realm of education raises the
need to quantity some dimension of this reality, beginning with a
fundamental aspect of its functioning: that of structure. In this way,
a common and generally accepted indicator to measure the extent of
computer use in schools came to light – that is, the student-computer
ratio. Among other things, comparisons between countries can be made
using this ratio and one can see the extent of the gap that separates
Latin America from developed nations.

With respect to the use of the computer and the ratio of students per
computer, an initial observation is the existence of a general consensus
as to the importance of using the TIC as learning tools. Upon weighing
the present situation in Iberoamerica, however, some marked differences
may be observed. Compared to countries promoting a policy of a 1:1
student-computer ratio (Portugal, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Spain,
among others) some countries have a very high student-computer ration.
Cuba reports a ratio greater than 30:1, one of the highest rates in
Iberoamerica. (Miradas sobre la educación en Iberoamérica, 2011, page 177)

A first difficulty lies in the different purposes for which computers
are used in schools. In general, most Latin American countries have
opted to add the total number of existing computers in schools, whether
they are used for administrative, educational or both. El Salvador
specifically mentioned that decision, while limiting its response to the
number of computers in the schools, without reference to the number of
students. As an exception to that rule, we may cite the case of Spain,
which calculates considering just the computers used for teaching and
learning tasks.

On the other hand, in connection with the use most of Latin American
countries are making of ICTs, it shows that in many cases it is
primarily aimed at achieving technological literacy of students. Despite
the diversity of situations in the region, a positive fact is that no
country supports never using use computers within the educational
environment, but in many cases use is limited to computer rooms, as
happens in Cuba.

The MIRADAS report acknowledges that there are currently no standardized
assessment systems that allow us to have concrete data about impact ICTs
have on learning. The absence of these data is of concern, while more
than 700 research efforts in the U.S. on the subject confirm the
positive effect of ICTs in the learning of students with access to
computers, either when they receive their instruction through them, or
use learning technology systems in collaborative groups or networks
(Schacter, J., 1999)

Strong evidence exists that learning with TIC is less effective when
learning objectives are not well defined and the purpose for utilizing
technology is controversial. Insofar as primary education is concerned,
experts recommend that we think about education first and technology
later. (Schacter, J. pg. 10).

Today, indicators need to be developed that can measure the effect or
impact of educational objectives, an aspect that goes hand in hand with
the development of other additional disciplines, such as cognitive
psychology to assess learning processes mediated by ICT. This constant
reformulation is part of the digital paradigm which, linked to the
learning process, is continually generating new returns in terms of
applications, content, competences, action plans, and, naturally, solutions.

Translated by: Scott and jCS

November 25 2011

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