Miguel Brechner’s presentation at TEDx regarding the Plaza Cibeles program in Uruguay was a stirring and passionate story about finding a way to build a better world. Miguel and others like him in Uruguay have recognized that if we want to change the world, we must start by changing the people who inhabit the world. If we are to change the people who inhabit the world, we should not start with adults who are stuck in their ways; we should start by putting the investment of a country where it can do the most good for the future of that country: its children.
Some insights which seem to have been valuable in the success of the project are regarding the limits of expertise. We humans are only very good at a limited set of skills, which is why we need to cooperate with others to achieve our goals. The drivers of Plaza Cibeles correctly saw that politicians do not have the expertise to be educational leaders or project managers. They also saw that project managers and educational leaders did not have the expertise to design policies and laws. They chose to use a collaborative approach that drew on the strengths of those two groups of experts while keeping them from interfering in each other’s work.
They also understood that conditions are better over the long term for everyone in a society which educates every child. Interestingly, they were able to build the technological infrastructure necessary to support the program and implement it for a total cost of ownership of $100 per child per year. This is far less expensive that in many schools in the U.S. where textbooks alone will frequently exceed that cost in a year, and that $100 per year will eliminate the need for textbooks given that most basic educational information in common academic subjects is available for free online. It would be wise for the U.S. education system to look to this model in Uruguay as an example of how it can become more cost-effective.
But this is not just about saving money; as Miguel Brechner notes, one of the primary goals is learning. I think that their approach to learning is exactly what is needed in the U.S. as well; instead of teaching children how to use programs on computers, teach them how to write programs and build robots. This has the dual benefit of putting them light-years ahead of people who can use a spreadsheet in terms of skill with a computer and also allowing them to be constructively creative in ways that prepare them for highly skilled positions later in life in a developing economy. They will need the skills to build a better economy for their country, and this approach to education is far more effective than the U.S. education system at teaching children to build and contribute creatively to their communities. As the video shows, this model of education also benefits previous generations by allowing them to learn to use computing technology for the benefit of their businesses, including farming.
The model put in place in Uruguay will have net benefits for many generations on, and it will be very interesting to watch the economic development of Uruguay over the next few decades as these kids start moving out into the work world as creators and innovators, If there were sufficient support for it in the U.S. it would be very possible to employ a similar model and put the U.S. back on the map as a prime technological innovator. But this would require changing the way our education system is funded and managed; this is unlikely to happen when there are many officials heavily invested in trying to make their 19th century model of education work in the 21st century.