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Morino Institute From Access to Outcomes: Digital Divide Report and Dialogue

Overview
 
Report
    Premise Ten
 
Report Supplement
 
Using the Report
 
 


Premise Ten:
Dramatically Broaden the Scope of Efforts

In order to apply technology effectively in low-income communities to help people improve their lives, we must be prepared to confront challenges that are far greater than most public- and private-sector leaders have yet acknowledged.

Community needs are hauntingly large, and community capacity is dangerously weak. Technology is becoming more expensive and complex. Technical talent is in acutely short supply. The nation has few large-scale providers capable of serving the need for technology-enabled solutions in low-income communities.

The problems cannot be solved piecemeal; they require comprehensive solutions that integrate people, processes, and technology. They demand a fundamental shift in thought and action in public policy, philanthropy, and corporate and nonprofit leadership. Anything less than a massive mobilization of resources, financing, talent, and innovation is destined to produce only incremental and isolated victories.

Case in Point: Chile’s Ambitious Enlaces Program

Many US firms have helped lead the Information Revolution, but other nations have made a greater national priority of harnessing information technology’s potential for social change. The Republic of Chile offers a good example. Although prosperous by Latin American standards, Chile is a developing nation, with a per capita income only one-third as large as that of the United States. Over the past decade, Chile has fostered a domestic telecommunications market that is one of the most open and competitive in the world. It has seen information technology as a key way of ensuring the country’s place at the table with—and, in the case of its important agricultural exports, on the table of—the world’s leading economies.

Today, Chile is home to perhaps the world’s most ambitious experiment in the use of technology to support the reform and modernization of an entire national educational system. The Chilean Ministry of Education has partnered with several telecommunications firms and the World Bank to invest more than $100 million in a computer and social network called Enlaces (a Spanish word meaning "links"). Despite enormous challenges facing the Chilean education system, the Enlaces network is helping to improve the quality, efficiency, and equity of primary and secondary education throughout the country.

Like the Universal Service (e-rate) program in the United States, the Enlaces program has enabled thousands of poor schools to connect to the Internet. Enlaces goes far beyond ensuring access, though. It provides extensive training to help teachers integrate the technology into the school curriculum and design collaborative learning projects that involve children all over the world. It also offers online and offline technical support, up-to-date classroom materials, and practical tools for keeping track of attendance and automating other mundane management tasks. Most important, it brings together teachers and students from across the country into a unified—and unifying—learning community, helping teachers and students share their experiences in discussion groups and speeding reforms to some of the most isolated Andean highland communities.

According to early program evaluations, Enlaces has begun to achieve impressive outcomes, including reductions in student drop-out rates, increases in cognitive development, and enhanced job prospects after graduation.

It is not clear whether the United States could or should create its own version of Enlaces. But it is clear that Enlaces’s widespread impact is a direct, if not inevitable, result of big thinking at a national level.

To Conclusion>>

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