Argentina ICTD Initiatives Review

By Gustavo Pereyra (@heroedelmate)

Context

At the turn of the millennium Argentina faced one of the worst crises in its history: roughly 25% of its population was unemployed, and the economy had been in recession for most of the late share of the 90’s [1]. 
Call it funky timing, but it was only a couple of months before the president had to resign that the government passed legislation that encouraged –among other major reforms– the strategic inclusion of ICTs in the various administrative bodies of government [2]. Later on, and not without undergoing heavy circumstances some of which remain unsolved today, the country crawled out of the hole it had fallen in and entered a period of economic bonanza, so it became a much fertile ground for ICT initiatives. Those conditions led by 2005 to the National eGovernment Plan (“Plan Nacional de Gobierno Electrónico”) [3], which empowered the Undersecretary of Public Service as the main federal government organ to lead ICT initiatives.
It was in 2009 that the current status was reached, when the Undersecretary of Public Service launched the program “Agenda Digital Argentina” [4] which states the basis and creates specific institutions with open participation to address Digital Development.

Local Initiatives

The economic recovery was especially beneficial for rural regions, and so it was that medium sized cities located in these became pioneers in local eGovernment projects. Some of these projects find the local government partnering up with multinational corporations, such as the city of Rafaela with Intel [5], or Marcos Paz with Motorola [6]. Marcos Paz even made it to the top 25 in the Motorola Ranking of Digital Cities for Latin America, standing out because of its eHealth program [7].

OLPC-ish Projects

Since then, many OLPC-ish initiatives followed, such as City of Buenos Aires’ “Plan S@rmiento” [8], San Luis Province’s “Todos los chicos en red” [9]. Let’s take a look at the more ambitious -and perhaps the most successful- “Conectar Igualdad”.
This Federal Government’s program was launched in 2010, and it aimed at reducing the digital divide by delivering netbooks to every high school student and teacher in the country, training teachers to include the new tools in the class workflow, and developing suppliers and infrastructure in schools in order to support the project [10].
As of 2014, it has delivered 3,812,054 netbooks [11], and it has received praise (mainly because of success in the netbooks and infrastructure deployment) and criticism (most notably because teachers were not properly trained and struggle in the introduction of the new tools to the teaching process) [12].

Final remarks

Since NGO impulsed projects are much harder to spot, with some notable exceptions such as “Proyecto Nahual” (ICT job training for youth at risk) [13], and private sector involvement is limited to partnerships with government spheres, it is clear that the Argentina’s ICT initiative ecosystem leans heavily to the State-led side.The question about if it would be better to encourage a more balanced context remains open.

Bibliography

(Sorry for the Spanish references!)

17 comments:

  1. Dear Gustavo,

    This is a very interesting blog post--I had not idea that entire Argentine cities were actually collaborating with private companies to achieve a smart cities network. That is so interesting--and troubling. There are a many things that can go wrong in public-private partnerships! What is your opinion on them? I could not quite figure it out from your blog post.

    "Conectar Igualdad" sounds a lot like "One Laptop per Child"--good idea, but the insufficient preparation borders on technological determinism. I'm sure you know of it, but here is a link to the initiative, just in case: http://one.laptop.org/

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    1. Hi Christina, I noticed this within the post that might be of interest to you (albeit different geography): "Since NGO impulsed projects are much harder to spot, with some notable exceptions such as “Proyecto Nahual” (ICT job training for youth at risk) [13]" Argentina might be a fun country to live in for a while... :)

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    2. Hi Christina!
      My opinion about public-private collaboration is that it can be beneficial but not necesarily easy.
      If the government -especially when discussing the local sphere- has a fluid interaction with the population -transparency, participation-, it can be in position to be open to collaboration with private parties, without resigning too much power.
      Of course that under those conditons, almost every policy would be beneficial!

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  2. Ola Gustavo!

    Thanks for the post. Argentina is a lovely country. I believe that as the new generation steps into higher roles ICT will be incorporated more and more into government systems. It is possible that there might have been other factors that led to the rapid turn around in Argentina, however I do not disregard that ICT might have played a big role too. I agree with Christina about "Conectar Igualdad", such programs tend to overlook a myriad of important factors.

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    1. Hi Miss Sidee, thanks for your comment!
      I agree with you that the economic turn around had little to do with ICTs; just brought it up because I think it explains part of the willingness of the government to spend in costly programmes such as Conectar Igualdad.

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  3. What struck me is how universal these lessons learned are:

    "As of 2014, (the government) has delivered 3,812,054 netbooks, and it has received praise (mainly because of success in the netbooks and infrastructure deployment) and criticism (most notably because teachers were not properly trained and struggle in the introduction of the new tools to the teaching process)"

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    1. Also, Gustavo, netbooks still, and not tablets yet? I'm seeing more of the tablet craze in Asia (with the SAME issues you mentioned)

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    2. Still netbooks, indeed.
      According to what the Executive Director of the programme (Silvina Gvirtz) says here: http://www.telam.com.ar/notas/201306/23033-gvirtz-las-netbooks-ayudan-a-formar-alumnos-activos-en-el-uso-de-tecnologias.html, the netbooks are preferred because they offer a better platform for text production.

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  4. Well, I guess I'll just have to write the sequel focusing on "Conectar Igualdad"!

    Here are a couple of articles in english about the programme:

    1) http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/11/argentina-digital-revolution-hits-secondary-schools/
    2) http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8caa90f8-e304-11e2-bd87-00144feabdc0.html
    3) http://www.argentinaindependent.com/currentaffairs/newsfromargentina/wireless-education-free-laptops-for-public-schools/
    4) http://www3.weforum.org/docs/Global_IT_Report_2012.pdf (page 85)

    Thanks for the comments!

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  5. Here's a very interesting UNICEF report about ICT policies in education, focusing on Argentina: http://www.unicef.org/argentina/spanish/Argentina_ok.pdf (In spanish again, sorry!)

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    1. A mí me gusta la oportunidad de practicar el español por leer estos artículos.

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    2. Qué bueno que así sea! No hay mucho material en inglés del tema...
      Saludos Crysta!

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  6. Hola Gustavo! Muchas gracias por este articulo muy rico!!!!! I'm curious about the legal frameworks in place to support private development initiatives in Argentina. For example, is there a legal structure specific to social enterprises? Or, do they get other benefits/incentives from the government?

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    1. Hola Timothy, gracias por tus comentarios!
      As far as I know, there is no specific legal framework for Public-Private Partnerships in Argentina. Being that so, I believe that ad-hoc agreements are signed on a case by case basis, framed within the traditional legislation -Public Works contracts, Donations, etc.
      Regarding the Social Enterprises, let me do a little bit of research and I'll get back to you with an answer.

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    2. Here is an extensive article about the status of Public-Private Partnerships legislation in Argentina: http://www.ijeditores.com.ar/articulos.php?idarticulo=62169&print=2.
      It's quite technical and -surprise- it's written in spanish.

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  7. Great post Gustavo! This reminds me of Nicholas Negroponte's vision of one laptop per child which faced implementation issues on field.

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    1. Thank you, ruchita!
      It is indeed on Nicholas Negroponte's OLPC programme that inspired most of these initiatives.
      I believe that the OLPC's "universality" could have been a weakness that Argentina's initiatives lack, since they're much more focused and close to the local culture.

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