Do you ever ask yourself, similar to Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life!, what would have happened if you hadn’t left your country of origin? Well, reading the news in Panama plays out like a poor rendition of It’s a Wonderful Life! that is real.

El 13 de enero de 2012 se firma el contrato No. S-001-2012 entre el Ministerio de Educación y Tecnología Aplicada S.A. (TECNASA) para la  “Adquisición de 93, 500 Computadoras Portátiles, para el programa de entrega de Laptops Educativas a estudiantes – Proyecto de Masificación de Tecnologías”.  .  .el Gobierno Nacional de Panamá entregará a cada estudiante de cuarto, quinto y sexto año (escuelas secundarias) una computadora portátil en el año 2012. (Source: Profesor Rick Miranda’s Blog)

If you don’t read Spanish and Google Translator hasn’t kicked in for you, you’ll see that the Republic of Panama has purchased 93,500 laptop computers to hand out to 4th, 5th, and sixth grade students. Wow, phenomenal news, right? 

Of course, it’s great news that the Panamanian government is issuing technology to so many socio-economically challenged students. I’m thrilled at the prospect, just saddened at the fact that the software loaded on those laptops will include the following:
  • Windows 7 Profesional.
  • Microsoft Office Home and Student 2010.
  • Microsoft Math 3.0
  • Microsoft Security Essentials.
  • Windows Live.
Urracá – in front of the Teachers’
College in Santiago, Panama
Ok, it’s amazing one didn’t need to translate that list of bulleted items, right? And, in truth, I have no doubt students will figure out how to use these tools without problem. But a part of me wishes that the Panamanian government would have had the foresight to provision those computers with free, open source software instead of closed, proprietary systems. 

The list of free, open source tools is vast compared to Microsoft based. More importantly, young Panamanians wouldn’t be locked into Microsoft development but free to explore a variety of creation tools. I also would have put SCRATCH on these machines.

As Professor Miranda points out below, computers are but one of many possible solutions. I applaud Panama’s effort but can only pray that it won’t turn into a boondoggle:

Las computadoras son una solución pero no tienen que ser la solución (Dr. Roger S.);  una computadora sin softwares educativos puede transformarse en una máquina de escribir, una buena calculadora o una excelente estación de juego, pero no en una herramienta educativa (Prof. Erick M.).

As I once asked Texas district technology leadership, whatever made MS Office the solution that students would need to do well academically? The focus should be on the connections these children will be able to make once they get access to technology.

There’s a lot of work remaining in Panama…it makes me wonder, what would happen if I were to return there?

Images appearing in this blog entry are photos I took when I visited Panama in 2007. While there, I met with the teachers’ union (picture below), as well as the teachers’ college in Santiago, Panama, where my mother graduated as a teacher.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure