Case 1 - What really happened and assignment

Plan Ceibal – Uruguay

What you will read next is what actually happened in the real-setting of a south-american developing country, written with the perspective brought by 6 years of implementation.

While some of this case´s features, challenges and lessons learned might not be transferrable to other developing countries, many certainly are.


The context: Uruguay

Uruguay is small South American country with 3.4 million inhabitants. According to the Human Development Index, it is a middle-income country with a middle-high Human Development level. However, aggregate indicators hide complex situations within a country. While Uruguay is relatively well positioned in the region according to Gini Index, Literacy rate and other core indicators, the fact is that inequalities have grown considerable in the last 4 decades. While it is true that  literacy is almost universal in the population, due to an early and effective universalization of the primary school education, it is also true that only 1 every 3 students in the country finish high school (Source: National Institute of Statistics of Uruguay). Complementarily, Pisa tests show an appalling inequality in the distribution of learning outcomes in Math and Language across the social strata of Uruguay´s population. Likewise, while Uruguay as a whole shows one of the most egalitarian income distribution in Latin America, 17% of the population in the capital city lives under the poverty line, with not only insufficient income but also experiencing an appalling degree of social and urban isolation (high school drop-out rates, high adolescent pregnancy rates, precarious jobs, precarious housing conditions, etc.) that the multiple policies and plans implemented in the last 10 years have not been able to effectively attack. In this frame, women have shown to be more receptive to the social development initiatives implemented, showing higher enrolment and finalization rates.

This succinct panorama provides an idea of both the potential and challenges that this small country faces in the Knowledge and Information Society and the role that an initiative like Plan Ceibal might play.


Plan Ceibal

Plan Ceibal started with a decree of the back then President Tabaré Vazquez which detailed the program’s ambitions and was soon followed by a pilot project started in May 2007.  By 2009, the program had completed its full rollout throughout Uruguay, which became the first country in the world to have given one laptop to every public primary school student and teacher and to provide wireless internet connection to the schools throughout the country, in addition to installing outdoor connectivity points in public places. The main achievements as well as challenges facing Plan Ceibal were summarized in the First National Monitoring and Evaluation report whose data were later cross-validated though independent research.

The acronym “Ceibal” stands for Basic Informatic Educative Connectivity for Online Learning (in Spanish: Conectividad Educativa de Informática Básica para el Aprendizaje en Línea) and the acronym was chosen after the national flower, the “ceibo”.

Since laptops belong to the children, they are available both for learning purposes at schools and also beyond school time.

Distributing laptops on such an unprecedented scale served a higher purpose: bridging the digital divide in the country. With 1.8 million of Uruguayans living in the capital Montevideo and its metropolitan area, it was particularly important for the program not to neglect rural schools – and bring them the Internet connectivity they were usually lacking.

According to Michael Fullan´s report on Plan Ceibal, 2013, the implementation of Plan Ceibal can be divided into two periods: the early years, during which its main focus was social justice, and a second phase, which started in 2010, with the intent to foster the educational use of technology. This evolution also echoes previous studies which praised Plan Ceibal’s impact on the digital inclusion of children who didn’t have another computer and of their family members, but noticed that XO devices hadn’t yet reached their full potential in school.

For instance, an independent report on the impact of the plan on teaching practices in primary schools interviewed teachers and principals, many of which pointed out problems that resulted in a limited use of the laptops. Some of the difficulties that teachers mentioned were logistical, with a relatively  high rateof the laptops were becoming temporarily unavailable due to poor maintenance or technical issues – a problem that Plan Ceibal is now addressing by significantly improving access to repair facilities. The report stated that creative use of the devices was uncommon; when teachers did integrate them into their lessons on a regular basis, it was often within a traditional teaching style. Teachers, on their part, also complained that they felt inadequately prepared to use the XOs in their class. This led Plan Ceibal to adopt several measures to further support teachers, for instance by offering digital resources to encourage best practices in the classroom.

Two recent additions to Plan Ceibal also feature educational content that could boost Uruguay’s ranking in the tech world: a brand new robotics program and an initiative to teach English remotely, in partnership with the British Council. This means that Uruguay is about to widely democratize English language and IT skills, while generalizing affordable broadband access through its large-scale fiber-to-the-home initiative, which is led by government-owned operator telecommunications unit.

Given the marked socio-economic inequalities facing the urban population attending public schools, as a universal access policy Plan Ceibal also addressed the need for focused programs tailored to the needs of the most socially disadvantaged sectors of the population. The need for involving parents in the meaningful use of these resources, both for supporting after-school children´s learning, for promoting taking care of the equipment and for including the adults as e-citizens themselves, was addressed by a program called, to date implemented in 1 every 3 public schools located at the poorest areas of the country. 

Plan Ceibal has a portal that can be consulted for further information. 



Please contrast your previous options with the ones made in the real case.

Discuss with your peers what are the probable consequences of those choices.

List the questions that you would formulate to the implementers of Plan Ceibal in order to gain a deeper understanding of it.

Discuss with your peers the replicability of this model in two other national contexts you know well.

Last modified: Thursday, 19 December 2013, 3:52 PM