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