Portugal’s Magellan Initiative: Preparing the children for a knowledge-based worldEdit
According to Intel (2008b), there are one billion students enrolled worldwide. This company advocates the preparation of students for a fast-changing world, a knowledge-based society and a global economy. They are trying to create learning environments to free the confidence, ingenuity, and potential of those one billion eager minds looking for the chance to learn and contribute the world. They also stated that research shows a strong correlation between education and economies. Just one more year of schooling can increase personal income nearly ten percent. In addition, studies show national returns on education as high as twelve percent. On the other hand, technology gives teachers new resources for engaging and effective education. They believe that technology sparks the joy of discovery, joins students with a wider world, and builds skills that build the future. However, only five percent of the world’s children have access to a PC or the Internet. They acknowledged that innovative learning tools are now available to allow children to collaborate, bring technology to the classroom, and meet their local needs. For Intel and Portugal, all children deserve the chance to dream, grow, and prosper.
Educational priorities in PortugalEdit
One of the educational priorities in Portugal is to improve the relevance and quality of education. Intel (2008a) maintained that Portugal’s priority to make technology accessible to schools and children is a model for governments and corporations working together to prepare future generations for long-term opportunities. According to The Portugal News Online (2008a), the Prime Minister José Sócrates reaffirmed the commitment that the current administration wants Portuguese schools to be "at the frontline of technological change". In addition, they reported that the Prime Minister would like to see citizens who join the labour market 15 years from now to be prepared to use new technologies. The Prime Minister contended that by equipping the schools with state-of-the-art computing technology and Internet connectivity, the government of Portugal hopes to hasten the transition to economic models that benefit their citizens (Intel, 2008a).
Another educational priority in the country is to prepare future Portuguese generations to learn English. The Portugal News Online (2008a) reported that in the 2008-2009 academic year, the Ministry of Education introduced the teaching of English as of the first grade in all primary schools in the country.
The World Bank (2005) recommended countries to ensure access to relevant and quality education for those strata of society that have been excluded because of poverty, ethnicity, gender, and other related factors. Evidence of the relationship between education and economic growth points to the importance of a balanced expansion of access to quality education. According to The World Bank (2002), the poor quality of teacher training programs has detrimental effects on the quality of learning in primary and secondary education.
Portugal’s commitment is to advance quickly toward a knowledge-based economy. The World Bank (2007) contended that a knowledge-based economy is one in which knowledge assets are deliberately accorded more importance than capital and labor assets, and where the quantity and sophistication of the knowledge pervading economic and societal activities reaches very high levels. It is an economy in which knowledge is acquired, created, disseminated, and applied to enhance economic development. ENTERWeb noted that technological developments in the 20th century transformed the majority of wealth-creating world from physically-based to knowledge-based. They contended that technology and knowledge are now the key factors of production.
Steffen (2006) contended that new thinking, trade, and collaboration yield economic growth and innovation. Moreover, he recognized that people need better tools, models, and ideas for changing the world. In effect, the more people that know about these tools, models and ideas, the better their own ideas will get, and the more ideas will become available. According to The World Bank Institute (2007), well-educated and skilled people are essential for creating, sharing, and using knowledge effectively. Utne (2006) claimed that sharing the power of knowledge among vastly greater numbers of people is not only more essential than ever, but also more possible than ever.
According to Publico (2009c), the Prime Minister, announced that the Government would investment 400 million euros (563,274,942 USD) in the area of the Education in 2008, for the installation of Internet in all the classrooms.
Educational needs in PortugalEdit
Matthews, Klaver, Lannert, Conluain, and Ventura (2009) contended that mainland Portugal is a country of demographic contrasts. The density and number of the population is much higher in the northern of the Tagus river, which includes the North and Central Regions and Lisbon, than in the south – Alentejo and the Algarve. They reported that Portugal has a tradition of isolated primary schools with isolated teachers. In the school year of 2005/2006 there were 7,400 schools with first cycle education and approximately 416,500 pupils. From these schools, 1,570 of them had fewer than 10 pupils, 1300 had between 10 and 20. In addition, there were big differences in provision between the rural and urban areas. Rural areas were dominated by small schools with poor facilities and urban areas had overcrowded schools with double shift education. This network was very inefficient, the retention rate in the second grade was very high, around 15%, and the mobility and fluctuation of quality of teachers, particularly in the rural areas, resulted in poor and frequently disrupted educational provision.
It had been decided to rationalize the primary education system and to close down small schools having less than 10 pupils in 1984, but the essential political will was not definitive enough to make more than gentle progress in implementing this policy. By 2005/06, research had confirmed that pupils in smaller schools were making slower progress than their peers in larger schools. The decision to close smaller first cycle schools was made two years ago after ‘several feasibility studies’, which by 2005/06 indicated a direct relationship between the size of school and student success. The reasons for the relative ineffectiveness of smaller schools are not hard to find. The social conditions in Portugal have contributed to two related phenomena, low population densities due to the declining birth rate and the depopulation of rural areas, for example, in Alentejo. This has led to a sharp drop in attendance in rural schools over the last decade. In the last few years, therefore, first cycle schools have seen their student numbers fall, which has led to closures.
On the other hand, schools were unattractive to many teachers, with the result that teachers did not stay long, were hard to replace and had to work in professional isolation. The decline in teaching standards is reported to have been accompanied by a decline in the physical condition of school buildings. Students were taught in mixed age groups, often experiencing similar work year after year. Moreover, since they failed to make the expected progress, retention rates were high. Thus many children left the first cycle underprepared for the ensuing stage of their education.
To increase the effectiveness and the quality of first cycle schools, the government determined that small schools showing higher rates of retention than the national average must be shut down during 2005/06 and ‘fostering’ schools must be identified to receive the pupils from the schools which were discontinued. This was part of an urgent reorganization and redeployment program.
The Classmate PCEdit
Intel (2009a) contended that their vision is to connect people to a world of opportunity by driving adoption and designing the right kinds of technology in education. This company has invested in comprehensive ethnographic and human factors research in real classrooms to design purpose-built solutions for education. In addition, their vision is to design technology for classrooms and "micro-mobility" which increases potential for computer use at desks, in small groups, sitting on a floor, sitting at a bench, or standing, typed and written, alone and shared, seamlessly moving between all of these conditions.
While driving costs down is a goal for Intel, they also focus on adding innovation throughout the product development and evolution process so that students, teachers, administrators, and parents can integrate technology into their lives. Their first designs, the Intel-powered classmate PCs, are rugged, affordable, child-friendly netbooks. Furthermore, Intel's Learning Series Alliance is brought to life by local technology companies that customize the products and services for their market. Intel collaborates with vendors worldwide to ensure the right infrastructure, external accessories, and software for school settings, optimized for Intel Learning Series products.
The Magellan InitiativeEdit
According to Nagel (2008), the Magellan Initiative is similar in some ways to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative in that its aim is to deliver low-cost, mobile systems to school children around the world. Intel (2008) contended that the Magellan project is one of the most comprehensive educational technology programs in the world. It is a global and pioneering initiative from the government of Portugal to provide 500,000 laptops to all primary school children from their first to their fourth year of schooling. That means 500,000 children between the ages of six and ten, in basic education, will have access to their first laptop through Portugal's Ministry of Public Works, Transportation and Communications (MOPTC).
In addition, they informed that the Magellan Initiative complements Portugal’s e-Escola project, which provides educational notebooks and Internet access to teachers and students for the secondary level of school education. Just like the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan, the Magellan laptop will bring people of the world together by expanding the concept of e-inclusion to citizens of other countries who have had little access to information or technology. The Portugal News Online (2008) reported that Portugal's Socialist government plans to invest some 400 million euros in the next few years to equip the country's primary, middle and high schools with broadband and IT technology.
According to e.escolinha (2009a), the initiative results from a set of partnerships between the Portuguese Government, Intel, the principal operators of telecommunications – Optimus, TMN, Vodafone, Zon –, Microsoft, the Caixa Mágica (Magic Box) and the autarchy followers. The Portugal News Online (2008b) reported that the Education Minister, Maria de Lurdes Rodrigues, informed the Lusa News Agency that the programme was financed by telecommunications companies through a fund that was established when 3G licences were attributed. Taylor (2008a) echoed that these machines are expected to be delivered over a period of three years. There are 3 scales for the acquisition of a Magellan laptop. For students who qualify in the first scale, that is those who are poor, the laptop is free of charge. In addition, the computer is also sold to others staring at 20 Euros (28 USD) in the second scale and 50 Euros (70 USD) for the third scale.
In addition, Taylor (2008b) reported that through a protocol signed by the government and Intel, a largely Portuguese consortium will be established to develop and manufacture laptops in Portugal. The Portuguese PC maker called "JP Sá Couto" set up a plant in the Freixieiro zone of the town of Matosinhos. He also stated that this factory is expected to produce 4 million cheap computers for both the domestic and international markets, starting in early 2009. This pioneering project will make this company the first one in the European Union to manufacture its own computers.
e.escolinha (2009b) contended that the distribution of the Magallan computer for the present school year has practically concluded. There are currently 404,600 pupils in basic education enrolled in the program. The deadline for enrolling for the next academic year ended on June 26. Currently 370,000 Magellan computers have bee delivered to students from public and private schools. There are still 3,000 laptops in transit, to be deployed to students who have already payed for them. In addition, e.escolinha reported that there have been 31,600 enrolled students in the program to whom the Magellan laptop has not yet been issued mainly because of incorrect registration data (basically the telephone number of the contact person in charge or receiving them) or for absence of payment. Parents and people in charge of students who have not received the laptops because of data issues are encouraged to contact a call center at 707 102 526 to receive further instructions. In addition, the date for payment of the registration fee or correction of data is July 15. The Regional Education Office has ensured that the laptops will be delivered until the end of July to all the students. Finally, e.escolinha informed that there have been around 50,000 students of the first cycle that have not been enrolled in the program. Most of them are students in fourth grade whose parents have opted to enroll them the following school year when they will receive laptops in their basic education cycle.
In addition, according to e.escolinha (2009c), the Magellan Initiative is being supported by a Web site (http://www.dgidc.min-edu.pt/eescolinha/) that contains resources, examples and support materials for the teachers in the first cycle. This site provides teachers with Information and Communication Technogy (ICT) solutions for their classes, specially for those who use the Magellan laptop. Teachers are encouraged to select materials and use whatever they consider is relevant and appropriate for them and their schools. In addition, the Ministry of Education carries out workshops which may last for two days for the ICT Coordinators in charge of schools in the first cycle. These training sessions focused on managing the Magellan laptop in class, and using the Internet safely without-parental control. The workshops were organized by the Ministry of Education and the partner-businesses like Intel, Microsoft and Caixa Mágica.
Characteristics of the Magellan laptopEdit
According to TMN (2009), the Magelllan laptop features Intel processors, an 8.9" (1024x600) screen, a 30 GB hard drive, 1 GB of RAM, webcam and Wi-Fi. In relation to the software, the laptop has both Windows XP + Office and Linux + Open Office. Taylor (2008a) reported that the Magellan is a second generation Classmate PC, based on the Celeron 900 unit. He added that the laptop comes completely full of privacy protection tools as well as a “pay-as-you-go” internet access and a rather original games module that is unlocked if the student has done his homework. The Magellan comes with the necessary software so the children can do their school work and develop projects. The Magellan allows teachers and students to be connected in a network and share knowledge, during school hours and beyond. It avoids excessive waste of paper and ensures the children are always updated. The Magellan was designed to encourage youngsters to develop a thirst for discovery.
According to Intel (2009b), the full-functional classmate PCs are designed for young students; the systems are compact, simple to use, water and shock resistant. Education-oriented software for classmate PCs is currently available in Portuguese and other languages.
Publico (2009c) reported that the cost of prodution of the first Portuguese portable computer will be around 80 million Euros (112,545,138 USD) and each of the 500,000 portable computers will have a cost of production of 180 Euros (253 USD).
Nagel (2008) reported that Microsoft had launched its Magellan Learning Suite, a package of software solutions and services designed to support the Magellan laptop. He added that the suite would initially support Portuguese initiatives aimed at infusing technology into the Portuguese education system and delivering technology and training to disadvantaged youth in the country. In addition, he stated that Microsoft's involvement with Magellan includes the development of a Magellan-specific desktop and providing productivity and educational software for use on the systems, including Office 2007, Microsoft Student Learning Essentials, Microsoft Math(s) and Microsoft Encarta Online. Get Real Weekly (2008) added that the agreements signed represent an investment from Microsoft in the Magellan project by way of the Microsoft Unlimited Potential programme.
Advantages of the Magellan InitiativeEdit
According to Publico (2009b), the Canadian specialist in technology Don Tapscott pointed Portugal as an example to follow in education, praising the investment in individual computers in the classrooms. In the opinion of Tapscott, Portugal is to become a world-wide leader to rethink the education for the XXI century.
Nagel (2008) reported that Microsoft will be investing in student, parent and teacher training, as well as providing education resources through the Microsoft Digital Literacy Curriculum and Security Curriculum and providing collaborative services via Microsoft's Live@Edu. According to Microsoft Presspass (2008), through Microsoft Live@Edu, the following collaborative services will be made available for students, parents and teachers: Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Spaces, Windows Live SkyDrive, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Mesh and Microsoft Office Live Workspace. Furthermore, with this service suite, all Magellan users will be able to communicate with each other in a security-enhanced and collaborative environment. He also reported that the government of Venezuela ordered 1 million of the devices from Portugal.
According to Taylor (2008a), the Mistress of Education, Maria de Lurdes Rodrigues, claimed that the current PC-to-Student ratio is 5:1, and plans are on course to reduce that to 2:1 putting it ahead of the rest of Europe. He also reported that the cunning plan to boost computer literacy and school achievement levels has no specific agenda except raising the bar on education. However, he also believes there is a secondary target in mind, which the Portuguese government is working on: providing cheaper internet access at home.
e.escolinha (2009) contended that the Magalhães can be used by the whole family. It will be available gratuitously or at reduced prices, in accordance with the economical conditions of the families. In addition, the families in less advantageous economical conditions will receive support from companies that provide Internet access. The service is not compulsory, but it is important to guarantee that they all have access to the Internet at home.
Microsoft Presspass (2008) reported that training and technical support through the National Teacher Training Program is aimed at fostering a richer and more productive usage of Magellan, in and outside the classroom. At the training plan level, special focus shall be given to parents in what concerns a more secure usage of technology, to empower them to give support and be able to answer their children’s queries.
According to Magellan (2009), Portugal intends to become a technology advanced country where training and learning represent important development pillars. Intel will serve as the government's technology advisor, providing support and advice in managing, promoting and implementing the Magellan Initiative, as it did with Portugal's existing e-Escola subsidy program for older students. They are also planning to create a “Competence Centre” in Portugal to expand the use of mobile PCs and Internet access and use that knowledge to replicate pilot projects in other countries. In addition, Intel reported that they would be providing advice on needed infrastructure and training, as well as designing the student laptops that will form the bases of the program.
Finally, Intel asserted that the umbrella plan is to increase the use of computers and the Internet to provide Portuguese citizens with the latest technology and support them to participate in a knowledge-based economy. The Magellan initiative will help to stimulate the Portuguese economy in the area of new technologies, an area which is crucial to the future of Portugal, by exporting Magellan computers and access to information for everyone.
Barriers to the Magellan InitiativeEdit
The Magellan Initiative is devised to follow the guidelines of two major companies like Intel and Microsoft. This causes great dependancy in terms of the applications and classroom solutions that are provided to the teachers and students.
Publico (2009a) reported that there are still many problems to solve in terms of reducing the dropout rates in schools. The newspaper stated that Ana Bettencourt, presidente do Conselho Nacional de Educação (CNE), informed that many children abandon school due to school failure or simply because they do not learn.
According to Publico (2009c), the Portuguese Society of Oftalmologia (SPO) alerter that the use of the Magellan computer can increase myopia cases amongst the children due to the size of the portable device and to the very small letters. Other concerns are related to the possible theft of the Magellan laptops in various locations. The newspaper also reported some serious errors of Portuguese spelling in some applications. For this reason, the government requested the company to make corrections before deploying the laptops.
Another major problem is the delay in the deployment of the Magellan laptops to the schools. According to Publico (2009c), from the 354,000 enrolled students to receive the Magellan through the e-escolinhas program, only 200,000 have the portable computer so far. The Confederation of the Associations of Parents have reported the delays and allegue that the process is run badly. The fact that only certain students in some classrooms have received them, may force them to keep them at home to ensure that all students work under the same conditions. Many of the problems are originated due to the incorrect information filled by the parents or failure to complete the whole application with important information.
Portugal has set an example to the whole world. Technology is a means to providing greater opportunities for learning and communication. In the hands of the small portuguese children, the Classmate PC will allow them to become technologically savvy and gain better preparation for the future decades. The shift to a knowledged-based economy has been graciously adopted by the socialist government of Portugal. The changes in educational outcomes will take years to develop. There needs to pertinent preparation of local teachers and local educational technology specialists that can provide just in time assistance in every school in the country. The Magellan Initiative is receiving support from major technology corporations who have an interest in the development of the initiative. My recommendation is to form a high level committee in the government that supervises local deployment and implementation of the program. They should be in charge of assessing every situation and find adequate mechanisms to solve problems. This team should be represented by policymakers, educators, and representatives of the communities such as parents.
There are still a few things that need to be corrected basically in the process of registration for the laptops. It seems to be a bit difficult for parents to fill out the form. Sample forms could be sent to the schools so that the people responsible for receiving the computers (the contact person) can train parents in filling the form with the required information.
Teachers must always be taken into account and given the opportunities to test and get familiarized with this new technology. In terms of assessment, teachers must learn to evaluate not just the product of students' work but also the process that they had to go through to achieve their work. This requires a shift and accommodation of school assessments with support from the Ministry of Education. Workshops for teachers should focus on how to evaluate the new work that students will begin to do. I also want to believe that teachers have seen and embrace the true potential of these laptops. They need to be the first ones to believe in the project and work hard to change the gears of education so that they move at the ideal pace.
The success of the Magellan Initiative is also in the hands of the telecommunications companies. They have the responsibility to ensure Internet access in all the homes of the children who use the Magellan laptop. There may be complications at the beginning, but I want to believe in their commitment to invest in building a robust and reliable communications network.
Finally, I hope this initiative does not fall in the game of being categorized as one more "big deal" from the major technology companies and local private interests. Let's all hope that it truly serves it's purpose which is to bring people together and provide them with tools to become beter citizens.
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