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

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 data.

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

Capitalism Gone Wild / Regina Coyula

Taxis, as seen from the Hotel Cohiba. Internet image.

For those who doubt that things here are going to get worse, let me tell you that the first to implement the Chinese model are some of those in the emerging private sector. The obligation to remit high levies for licenses, in addition to salaries and loans to employees, puts a strain on those who find themselves on the lower economic rungs. Employees without a fixed salary pay a percentage of the costs. As a result, the business owner never loses, and those who don’t like it, can leave, and there will always be someone desperate to be hired.

To my astonishment, when I was already thinking about this post, I knew that something very similar exists in the state structure. In the new taxies circulating in the city, easily identifiable with their white and yellow, the drivers have to contribute a fixed amount, in addition to the expenses of maintenance and fuel; if the said amount is not remitted on more than two occasions, the taxi is handed over to another driver on a long waiting list.

Unwritten laws governing the new labour scene, coupled with the absence of a union to look out for the the interests of the less fortunate, remind me that many years ago, it was said that a revolution would be fought so as to avoid these kinds of things.

Translated by: jCS

December 16 2011

Celebrating the Prospect of Change / Rebeca Monzo

Graffiti by an anonymous artist.

If you think about it, Cubans really have very little to celebrate.  But the mere fact of being alive, being healthy, and feeling real desire for change, are sufficient reasons to do so.  Let us decorate our houses to make ourselves feel better and joyfully welcome visitors, and under no circumstances allow ourselves to lose the few traditions that we have, those traditions, which, despite wind and tide, have remained alive in the hearts of all.

Last night, walking down some of the neighborhood streets, I observed with satisfaction that, despite shortages and high prices for Christmas items, many homes are decorated and lit in celebration of the holidays.  Even just a few years ago, few people dared to do this; the majority placing flags in front of their homes to celebrate another anniversary.

In the past, we alone adorned our balcony with garlands.  Now, on my block, at least four houses are decorated with lights and that was sorely missed.

Besides handing out flyers advertising gastronomic offerings for the 24th and the 31st of December with Santa’s face on them (grapes and more!), the new paladares are all decorated with Christmas themes, adding some life to the neighbourhood.  Even five years ago, this was unthinkable.  Now, I hope and believe that this will be unstoppable.

Every time you meet someone in the street and you greet them, even if they don’t know you know, they will greet you with: To your health, and to change.  It might be said that in these times the greatest desire of all Cubans is that these openings continue and that a great transformation take place in our country, once and for all.

The door of totalitarianism has finally been opened just a crack; our duty is to continue to keep on pushing so as to open the door wide.  We still have time, it’s coming to an end.

Translated by: jCS

December 21 2011

My Record of the Year / Regina Coyula

Text appeared in Diario de Cuba in the section “Lo mejor de tu año” (The Year’s Best) under the question: “Which book, film, or musical recording did you enjoy the most this year?”

Porno for Ricardo is an uninhibited punk rock band that tries to do its thing from Cuba.  I like them a lot, but I don’t like punk.  My tastes tend towards progressive music, which is why I am going to try to convince you to listen to Dream Theatre, a band that doesn’t get a lot of recognition but is highly familiar to those “in the know” – a group to which I do not profess to belong.  However, thanks to my son, these talented musicians entered my life; it is a rare day that I don’t listen and discover something I had missed before.

Right now, I’m enjoying A Dramatic Turn of Events, a title that alludes undoubtedly to the departure of the band’s leader and founding drummer, an exit that was cloaked in all kinds of speculation about the future of DT.  Now, with this record, I imagine that fans of the band will be divided, both for and against.  I really like this record, which is a perhaps a bit less earth-shaking than others, but the ballads are amongst the group’s best, and the second last cut, the monumental Breaking All Illusions, is a roller-coaster of a song that is twelve minutes in length, with occasional plateaus so that one can catch one’s breath (their songs are long: my favourite, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, from the record of the same name, is 42 minutes long).  Beneath the Surface surprises the listener while bringing heartrates back to normal with a lovely acoustic theme.

I completely recommend this album, with the additional recommendation to not pass judgement after hearing it for the first time.  The third time around, pour yourself a favourite drink, and you’ll double your pleasure.

In short, I wanted to write about Porno para Ricardo, but I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted.  They’ll understand.  We recognized each other in the Theatre of Dreams.

Translated by: jCS

December 23 2011