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The Varsavsky Foundation
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28100 Alcobendas
Madrid, Spain


The political blog of a social entrepreneur


Our wedding gift from Jimmy Wales brings Wikipedia to schools without internet access

When Nina and I got married in 2009, the most thoughtful present we received was that of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (I wrote about it in my Spanish blog). After I told Jimmy about the difficulties my foundation educ.ar (whose mission is to improve education through the use of technology) was encountering in securing internet access for the many computers we had distributed to schools, Jimmy had a very special surprise for us at our wedding: an offline version of the Spanish Wikipedia.

Rather than being a present for Nina and me, it’s really a gift to all those kids in Argentina and other Spanish-speaking countries who have no means of connecting to the internet, or only have very limited access. And now, more than one year later, educ.ar is finally ready to deliver those DVDs to schools in Argentina.

At first glance this might not seem like a big achievement, but it is. As Jimmy explains in his blog, the difficulty is not getting the content on a DVD (it fits easily), but rather developing a simple offline reader that provides basic search and display functionality, using only free/open source software. Just think of the millions of cross-links that make discovering new information so easy and enjoyable on Wikipedia.

The DVD educ.ar will begin distributing this year consists of three parts. First, the offline Wikipedia itself, called “CDpedia”. In addition, there’s a theoretical framework where experts comment on the value of using Wikipedia in the classroom and explain Wikipedia’s value in an educational and social context that is increasingly being influenced by information technology and is undergoing a permanent transformation. Lastly, the DVD contains general tutorials and a guideline showing how to effectively use Wikipedia in a classroom setting. Here is the online version of this project.

And so, what started out as a wedding gift from a single (and very special) person will now bring a world of knowledge to thousands of school kids all over Argentina, and later to even more people in every Spanish-speaking country. I couldn’t think of a better present.

Posted at Educ.ar, Foundation on June 14, 2011 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Our wedding gift from Jimmy Wales brings Wikipedia to schools without internet access | TrackBack

English Course or English Corps? Educ.ar and Skype

Here´s an idea that I had for Educ.ar that combines the power of the largest educational portal in Argentina with Skype´s 130 million global community, and that is to create a program in which Skype members volunteer to teach English to kids in Argentina.

The main objective here is to create an environment of equal opportunity for Argentine kids, cause whether we like it or not not, speaking English is a handicap. Now this is how it would work. Educators at Educ.ar would put together English courses that are easy to teach by native speakers and offer students, who are native speakers, to teach this curriculum to Argentine kids over Skype. Skype would promote this program in its web site so as to find teachers. Students would sign up for lessons at Educ.ar and go on over Skype.

Skype is perfect cause it allows the combination of a web cam, with writing in a chat, with the ability to send files. Of course other programs would also work. Wengo has just launched a program oriented to something like this but they lack the community. And Instant Messenger has a huge community, but, personally, I would not know how to get to them, I have less contacts at Microsoft. I do have great contacts at Google, who are also my partners, but unfortunately Google Talk does not have a large community. Instead Skype, who is my partner at FON and it is easier for me at least to propose the idea to them. Janus and Niklas of Skype are always looking for something good to do anyway as they are caring people (i had to say this now that the holiday season is approaching ;).

I end with a warning, a lot of my ideas actually never get implemented. But I don´t mind blogging when I have them as this blog is about exactly that, having ideas and trying to implement them, some succeed, some fail.

Posted at Educ.ar on December 20, 2006 | # Permalink | Comments Off on English Course or English Corps? Educ.ar and Skype | TrackBack

Lunch With The Educ.ar Team

Educ.ar is a project that my foundation, the Varsavsky Foundation started in 2000 with a donation of $11.2 million dollars. Educ.ar has been described in different publicationsand its basic objective is to improve education with the use of new technologies.

Educ.ar has three main areas of activity, creating educational content in Spanish for the Argentine and Spanish speaking students, training teachers on how to use the internet and other new technologies such as interactive TV to improve their ability to communicate their learning and connecting schools to the internet. Educ.ar has so far distributed 65,000 fully equipped PCs with printers, it has created its web site, Educ.ar and it has trained over 10,000 teachers during 2006. It is estimated that around 40% of Argentine 12 million students use Educ.ar or technology or training provided by Educ.ar and its owner the Ministry of Education. Over $50 million have been invested in Educ.ar over the last 5 years.

Here there are two videos, one in English in which I show the Educ.ar team having lunch and show a typical argentine restaurant and a second one much more detail but in Spanish in which I interview Educ.ar´s CEO Alejandro Piscitelli and film a meeting in which I was presented with the latest technological improvements that are planned for Educ.ar for 2007. Educ.ar badly needs to renovate its equipment that comes from the original 2001 investments. I also want to thank Daniel Filmus, Argentina´s Education Minister for his great job as the President of Educ.ar and overall the support that his Ministry has given to the Alfabetización Digital program (Digital Literacy Program) and donated another $50K to the program.

Lunch with Educ.ar top managers at a typical Argentine Restaurant

The bill? 7 people ate well for 140 pesos or less than $50.

Interview with Educ.ar team managers in Spanish

Posted at Educ.ar on December 19, 2006 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Lunch With The Educ.ar Team | TrackBack

Brett Brune: Educ.ar Update in The Houston Chronicle

Today I saw this very well written article on Educ.ar, the Argentine project to provide educational materials and connect schools to the internet that I started in 2000, and was very happy to see that my efforts of 2002 to save Educ.ar from the collapse of the country had been successful. I am very glad that I did all I could to save the project including donating more funds because, even though I understand that food comes before education with the use of the internet, I strongly believe that if Argentina had continue educating the current generation without the internet there would have been no food for many years to come.

I am also pleased to announce that Educ.ar is very close to placing an order for half a million OLPC which is going to greatly move Educ.ar forward. Here´s a picture of one of the laptops with the Educ.ar portal shown in it.

DSC00361.jpg

Educ.ar has started a pilot program to test the laptops in Argentine schools.

Posted at Educ.ar on November 24, 2006 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Brett Brune: Educ.ar Update in The Houston Chronicle | TrackBack

Online Learning vs. Textbook Learning

1. Textbooks will not be profitable and therefore will not be published at all if a certain, minimum amount of demand for them does not exist. Therefore, textbooks are published on fewer subjects than they could be and tend to be very general in scope. Information can be published on the Internet without regard for the price of printing and distribution or the size of the potential audience. Information on the Internet can cover a broader range of esoteric subjects for this reason.

2. The smaller a country, the less likely the textbooks used in its classrooms were written in that country. On the Internet, local authors can publish material on all subjects in a manner appropriate for their own country.

3. Textbooks become obsolete almost immediately after publication and cannot be updated until the next printing. Information on-line can be updated daily and any errors in printing can be corrected immediately.

4. Textbooks require paper that requires the cutting down of trees. On-line learning is not harmful to the environment.

5. It is often easier to use educational web sites than textbooks. For example, very young children who cannot read can still learn by looking at pictures and images that resemble to real world in which they live. Textbooks are not introduced to children until they are 8, but the Internet can be useful from age 4.

6. Textbooks are limited to the information on their pages whereas educational web sites can link to an infinite number of other educational sites to elaborate in as much detail as necessary particular points or to offer supplemental information on related points. With textbooks, teachers may only assign reading from set pages, but with the Internet they can recommend several sites and can do so through a mass e-mail to their students or by posting assignments on a personal, universally accessible site.

7. Every PC is like an entire library whereas every textbook is only one book. In a textbook, students can jump from page to page but on-line they can jump from book to book.

8. When the objective is to read a book from cover to cover, as with works of literature, books have the advantage of being more portable than a PC, but when a book is meant only for consultation, on-line information is cheaper and not as heavy. An extreme example would be encyclopedias.

9. Textbooks are authoritative and do not leave room for student opinion. The Internet is interactive and permits students and others to enter a dialogue on different subjects.

10. Textbooks are limited to the points of view of their authors. The Internet allows multiple view points, which is essential for fostering critical thinking, especially if the author is incorrect about a particular assertion.

11. Textbooks are very expensive. In Argentina for example, textbooks cost an average of $22 each, for 7 subjects per year, for several years of school. Many students attempt to circumvent the requirement of paying these amounts by photo-copying pages, which also ends up being expensive and leaving authors without due royalties. On-line learning requires only the initial cost for the hardware and a monthly connection fee which does not increase no matter how many students use it and how many different sites they visit. Authors rights are more easily protected on-line as well.

12. Textbooks take up a lot of space whereas every book in the world can fit into one small PC. Even the American Library of Congress is using PCs to store books now.

13. A lap top weighs less than one or two textbooks and holds infinitely more information.

14. Textbooks have no sound, the Internet does. This is particularly useful for students of language who can not only learn to read and write foreign words, but to pronounce them correctly. This is also exceptionally helpful for students of music.

15. Textbooks do not have animation, the Internet does.

16. Textbooks do not have video clips, the Internet does.

17. Textbooks cannot evaluate and correct a student performance on quizzes or questions, the Internet can.

18. If a student is reading a textbook and does not understand something, there is no one he or she may ask. On-line, tutors and 24 hour experts can be available to answer questions.

19. Teachers and parents have know way of knowing whether students ever read their textbooks but they can keep track of all visits to educational web sites.

20. Students studying on-line can see when other students are on-line and can communicate with them. Students studying from textbooks cannot do this. They of course meet to discuss the texts, but ironically, not in the public library where rules of silence must be respected.

21. Students studying on-line can exchange ideas with other students and people from all over the world and get information directly from primary sources.

Posted at Educ.ar on February 7, 2005 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Online Learning vs. Textbook Learning | TrackBack

Educ.Ar Dogma

Visit Educ.ar at www.educ.ar

1) We exist because we are convinced that people can teach and learn better with the Internet.

2) For the past 500 years, the best technology for studying has been the textbook and now it is the Internet.

3) Educ.ar is a great source of support for students outside of class. They find everything they need to study in the portal. Educ.ar could as appropriately be called “estudi.ar”. Anything that does not have to do with studying should not be found in the portal.

4) Educ.ar assists teachers in their tasks and supports their work for the good of the entire educational system.

5) Textbooks are read in the silent and solitary environment of a library but the Internet permits people to choose whether to work alone or in conjunction with a whole community of teachers and learners. The Internet unites students and teachers who are studying the same topics.

6) Education and culture are not the same thing. Culture is a result of a good education. Educ.ar is not a cultural portal. It is a portal that prepares people for culture but does not include cultural themes.

7) The shares of Educ.ar belong to every person in Argentina. The donation of The Varsavsky Foundation and all of the businesses that are collaborating with Educ.ar have the objective of educating a new generation of Argentines. The goal is not to entertain, to inform or to sell, but simply to educate. Many other portals exist to entertain, inform or sell but Educ.ar is the portal for students and teachers to study and learn.

8) Educ.ar is managed by the Argentina Ministry of Education and the portal will be brought to all the provinces in the country with all the materials needed to study on the Internet.

9) Not all works are taught better on-line. Works of literature, for example, are best read on paper. In general, books that are meant to be read from cover to cover are best read off-line. In creating contents for Educ.ar, we must always ask if there is a real benefit to using the Internet. If it is not better taught on-line, there is no point in putting it there.

10) Educ.ar shall not spend money on activities that are not purely educational and interactive. Before authorizing payment for material, the treasurer should ask, “whom does this material help to study?”

11) Argentina is divided into provinces, each of which has its own curriculum. Educ.ar must reflect this division.

12) Educ.ar is not a horizontal portal like www.elsitio.com or www.terra.com. Educ.ar has a hom page that brings users directly to the educational material and homework they need. A map of Argentina is needed and a scale with grade levels. A student can quickly find the necessary material.

13) If textbooks are today’s educational guides, Educ.ar must be the interactive educational movie. If contents in Educ.ar do not take advantage of the benefits of the Internet, (interactivity, sound, links, animation, personalization) why put them there at all?

14) Printing is more expensive than buying printed material. Much of Educ.ar’s contents must be usable on-screen. Kids have been living stuck to tv screens for 30 years and no one has gone blind. We do not believe in contents for printing. Printing should only be an occasional option.

15) In an ideal world, Educ.ar would use “thin clients” and broad band. In reality, we must work from disconnected PCs with CD ROM until we can work with thin clients and ethernets (LANS). This is the future model but in the meantime, CD ROMs will suffice.

16) The first experience of teachers who are trained to teach with Educ.ar must be really special. If new users believe that they just read on-line without hearing, seeing and feeling the Internet is special, we have failed.

17) Educ.ar has to be opened. People who work at Educ.ar will edit the site, not create it. Educ.ar has to be made by the community and edited by us.

18) Internet personalizes. We will take advantage of this so that every student can be taken further and future leaders of Argentina will be formed.

19) We license foreign contents, taking advantage of the excellent contents that exist in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and any other language.

20) The salaries of Educ.ar workers cannot be disproportionate to other salaries in the educational system in Argentina. People who work at Educ.ar do it because they are teachers, not for money.

21) Educ.ar has to incorporate all the provinces, to have central contents disseminated and to buy contents in groups that are for the whole nation.

22) Educ.ar is an international movement. We take advantage of the fact that in Fundacion Chile are our partners and of the material available in www.enlaces.cl and www.ie2000.cl

23) The educational zone in Educ.ar has to cover specific topics from the curricula, not education itself. Students study chemistry, physics, astronomy, literature and not pedegogy. The zones must reflect this. The zone of biology must make users feel like biologists and of physics like physicists. The portal does not have to have the same presentation as one moves deeper into it.

24) If we see something educational on the Internet that we like and we know in what level and which course it would be taught, we must immediately license it and incorporate it into the portal.

25) Educ.ar is to fill a matrix by province, years and subjects, each with interactive contents that use the power of the Internet. This is our work.

26) For the University sector, Educ.ar has to be more than anything else, a tool of publication. The professors will be able to publish in Educ.ar without having to have their work audited by our group editor.

Posted at Educ.ar on February 7, 2005 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Educ.Ar Dogma | TrackBack

Educarchile.cl

Visit Educarchile.cl at www.educarchile.cl

The Varsavsky Foundation has joined forces with the AVINA Foundation (www.avina.com), in an effort to bring technology to education in Latin America. As a first step toward this goal, the two foundations have jointly donated $500,000 to Fundación Chile to create a national, educational internet portal for Chile. The grant money has been used to create high quality educational contents for student, teachers, families and researchers. The portal combines elements of two existing Chilean educational sites, (www.enlaces.cl),(created by the Enlaces Project of the Ministry of Education) and (www.ie2000.cl), (created by Fundación Chile). The portal was launched in March 2001.

Posted at Educ.ar on February 7, 2005 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Educarchile.cl | TrackBack

Educ.Ar Argentina

Visit Educ.ar at www.educ.ar

In early May 2000, The Varsavsky Foundation made a grant in the amount of $11,282,855 ($1 for every student in Argentina) to the Argentine Ministry of Education for the creation of a national educational Internet portal.

The portal, which can be visited at www.educ.ar, was launched on September 18, 2000. It contains educational articles, texts, interviews, games, workshops and more, designed to complement classroom learning from the primary school level to the university level. The portal will be used by students, teachers and parents alike.

The Varsavsky Foundation’s grant has helped the Argentine Government begin the formidable task of creating and collecting the educational contents for the portal, providing technology training for teachers and students and putting in place the infrastructure (electricity, telephone connections, hardware, software and internet connections) at every one of the more than 39,000 learning institutions in the country.

When the project has been successfully completed, internet penetration in Argentina will have increased from 3% of the population to more than 30%!

Posted at Educ.ar on February 7, 2005 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Educ.Ar Argentina | TrackBack

Our vision

In today’s information centered, technology obsessed society, a child educated without access to a PC or the internet enters adulthood under the weight of a heavy disadvantage, and a child with no education at all shoulders an impossible burden. The Varsavsky Foundation would like to help create a world in which no child is without a school, no school is without a computer and every computer is transformed into a powerful instrument of education.

Posted at Educ.ar on February 7, 2005 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Our vision | TrackBack