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WSIS Stocktaking
Colombia: Computadores para Educar "A road to knowledge"*
Photo credit: MICT/Colombia

In Colombia, the Computadores para Educar programme is reducing social divides and improving educational quality in the country by incorporating information and communication technologies (ICT) into basic and intermediate public education. This social programme, set up by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies and the Ministry of Education, was evaluated in a study conducted by Universidad de los Andes in 2010. The results are clear: ICT have a positive impact on educational quality and academic achievement. Provided that teachers are properly trained, students are more likely to move ahead to higher education, and social disparities will be reduced. The Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies’ Plan Vive Digital for the expansion of broadband technology is now taking up the challenge of increasing the reach and magnitude of Computadores para Educar. “Since Computadores para Educar reached our school, there have been some remarkable changes: the children are happy to come into the classroom and the teacher finds it easy to transmit knowledge”, says Héctor José López Quintero, a teacher.

ICT and education

Over the past ten years, the Computadores para Educar programme has found ways to adjust its management model in the field, not only to make the programme more efficient and to improve the cost–benefit ratio, but also to make it more inclusive and sustainable for the community. This has also brought environmental and economic benefits, for example through the reconditioning and maintenance of old computers, and the efficient management of electronic waste.

From 2000 to 2010, Computadores para Educar provided 291 261 computers to 20 673 public schools (more than 53 per cent of all schools in Colombia), offering ICT access to almost 6 million children (65 per cent of children enrolled in the public system). Educational training was provided in 11 135 schools, enhancing the competence of 43 986 teachers (15 per cent of the total number of teachers in the country). A total of 78 327 computers were reconditioned, avoiding the disposal of more than 4000 tons of electronic waste.

The total social investment made by Computadores para Educar to groups in need in Colombia amounts to some USD 172 million over ten years. This investment has generated a social return of 2.4 times that amount.

Eliminating social exclusion

Plan Vive Digital aims to eliminate social exclusion in Colombia by guaranteeing access to ICT to the entire population of the educational sector by 2014. The plan seeks to provide connectivity, together with capacity for use, so that learning environments are enriched. It also seeks new forms of access to knowledge, and contributes to knowledge production. Plan Vive Digital will benefit not only public educational institutions, but also cultural centres and public libraries across the country.

Protecting the environment

Plan Vive Digital, through Computadores para Educar, offers a model for the integral management of electronic waste, complementing its strategy for reconditioning and assembling computers. Thousands of tons of outdated computers and terminals have been saved from inappropriate forms of open-air disposal or discharge into landfills, which would have had serious environmental consequences because of the hazardous waste they contain.

Maintenance and support

When the computers are delivered to their recipients, they come with a one-year guarantee. Computadores para Educar offers a preventive and corrective maintenance service to prolong the useful life of the equipment and to guarantee the sustainability of educational processes initiated with the introduction of ICT. The idea is to generate a culture of use and care of computers.

But it is not enough just to deliver educational tools to schools. An entire process of training and support is needed to ensure that the tools are used effectively. Strategies are needed to incorporate ICT in the most effective way into the educational processes of each individual establishment.

Photo credit: MICT/Colombia
Children make robots with waste materials

Technology reinforces traditional teachers

The integration of computers into pedagogical processes promotes collaborative learning, creativity, new ideas, and the personal and professional growth of students and teachers alike. This has a positive impact on the development and productivity of communities.

But simply providing access to ICT does not guarantee a real improvement in educational quality.

Therefore, more than six years ago, Computadores para Educar started to train teachers and managers in order to improve not only their technological competences, but also their basic skills. In particular, the scheme supports the teaching of natural sciences, mathematics and social sciences. “There are the dynamics and personal relationships, because we have made the ICT room a space for coexistence and for the development of values”, says Héctor José López Quintero.

The training of teachers in the use of new technologies is what turns the teacher into a dynamic agent, able to develop creative and innovative qualities among students by using technological tools. In fact, technology reinforces the valuable work of traditional teaching. The scheme also promotes community development.

Producing useful products creates wealth for the population living around the schools that benefit from Computadores para Educar.

Measuring success

According to research published in 2010 by the Centre for Studies on Economic Development of Universidad de los Andes, Computadores para Educar has a positive and measurable impact on students in schools. Students from disadvantaged groups are less likely to drop out, more likely to achieve better academic results, more likely to move ahead to higher education, and can expect higher levels of income when they move into employment.

The research suggests that the use of ICT in education reduces the gaps in knowledge between rural and urban pupils, and between boys and girls. It benefits the poorest students and those with parents who have the lowest level of education. There is evidence that the educational use of ICT increases the possibility of access to higher education among the poorest groups.

Educational policy can be a decisive factor in inclusion and social mobility. In particular, the use of ICT in education, along with appropriate support and training, has the potential to reduce social and regional disparities.

Photo credit: MICT/Colombia
Electronic waste materials are recovered and used as raw materials

Facing the challenge of full coverage

The Computadores para Educar programme is ready to be rolled out to every public school in Colombia. But there are two major reasons why this cannot happen immediately.

First, there are more than 11 500 schools, covering almost 1 million children, in the most vulnerable regions of Colombia. One difficulty is that the children in these schools have never had the opportunity to see or touch a computer. An even greater difficulty is that 89 per cent of these schools have only 20 students, and 70 per cent do not even have electricity.

Second, there is the more general problem that 60 per cent of the teachers in public schools do not know how best to take advantage of ICT as an educational tool. Thus, there is a need to increase the coverage of pedagogical training in ICT.

Research done by Universidad de los Andes has confirmed that the use of ICT in education, coupled with the support and training strategy developed by Computadores para Educar, will have a positive and quantifiable effect in reducing social and regional disparities by contributing to improvements in educational quality, reductions in drop-out rates and increasing the probability that young people in public schools will be admitted to higher education.

The challenge in Colombia over the next four years is to roll out the Computadores para Educar programmes to 100 per cent of the 43 000 public schools. In effect, the challenge is to reach the 11 500 schools where students have never had access to ICT, and to provide technological training to all teachers who deal with digital competences. The impact of ICT in Colombia will increase by a significant order of magnitude if the benefits of the Computadores para Educar ICT programme can be extended to all the schools in the country.


* This article is adapted from “WSIS success stories 2011”, published by ITU in May 2011.


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