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Chile's wired classrooms

Nearly every classroom in Chile has a computer. But is anyone using them?

Inauguration of the first Mobile Computer Laboratory at the Grenoble elementary school in the Quinta Normal district in Santiago, May 8, 2009. (Courtesy Enlaces, Education Ministry of Chile)

Photo credit: Inauguration of the first Mobile Computer Laboratory at the Grenoble elementary school in the Quinta Normal district in Santiago, May 8, 2009. (Courtesy Enlaces, Education Ministry of Chile)

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile’s government spent years and more than $200 million putting computers and internet connections in almost every classroom of the country’s public schools. The kids were more than ready — but are the teachers?

Now 95 percent of public schools and state-subsidized private schools have received computers, with an average of 13 students per computer. Sixty percent of schools have access to the internet, slightly above the 55 percent national average, as estimated by the World Internet Project Report 2010.

Known as Enlaces, the program began as a trial project with 12 schools in 1992 as a way to improve the quality of education. Now it wants to have a notebook computer, datashow, screen and speakers in every classroom, and it's almost there. In the working-class district of San Miguel, practically all of its 12 public schools have the new equipment.

“This was unthinkable just a few years ago. No one ever imagined we would have a computer in each classroom, and much less a multimedia room with an interactive board. Back then, we were happy with having just one datashow for the entire school,” said Rodrigo Briones, director of the Llano Subercaseaux elementary and middle school in San Miguel, with 432 students.

But are they being used?

“That’s the big problem,” said Briones. “We now have the equipment and the technology, and the kids know how to use it. But teachers need to learn how to convert it into a resource tool, and we have a ways to go.”

There are several hurdles. One is that the education ministry’s courses, according to Briones, are too short and basic. Another one is the age of many teachers — “not a minor issue,” he said. In his school, of the 18 classroom teachers, most are around 50, and there are half a dozen on the verge of retirement. “They are just not motivated to learn,” he said.

In the Llano Subercaseaux school, the computers in the classroom are often idle all day, because teachers didn’t prepare lessons that use them. And that is another major problem: To use computers in classrooms, teachers must overhaul their programs, investigate, discover new tools and materials, learn to use them and adapt their methodology.

Since 1996, Enlances has trained more than 75 percent of public school teachers to use the new technology. However, learning to use a mouse or get on the internet is not the same as using computers as a tool for teaching or conveying contents.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/education/100427/computers-classroom-internet