BUENOS AIRES – Schools in Ometepe, an island on the Lake of Nicaragua, received 5,000 laptop computers for primary and high school students this year, taking the national total to 25,000. Argentina has distributed 1.8 million laptops to students, Peru 900,000 and Uruguay 570,000.
This brings cheer to Gonzalo Pulit. His company, Kuepa, seeks to advance digital education in Latin America by providing web-based services to schools for improving admi-nistration, communication and teaching.
“There are a lot of studies showing that investment in education is paid back by economic development,” Pulit, 44, said at his office in Buenos Aires. “Governments have come to recognize this.”
Brazil is stepping up its minimum investment in education to 7 percent of GDP by 2020. Colombia, Ecuador and Honduras are making reforms. More countries are handing out laptops. It’s a start. What needs to follow, Pulit said, are digital services to capitalize on the hardware to help improve exam results, lower dropout rates and graduate innovative young minds.
This is where Kuepa comes in.
Pulit started the company, which now has 20 employees, in 2011 after years in financial and private equity consulting.
Kuepa’s first product is an online platform for school management. Teachers can log in to do administrative tasks, from taking attendance to drafting class agendas and communicating with parents. Teacher evaluations and training can be done, and lesson plans and resources shared. Kids and parents can keep abreast of assignment deadlines and exam dates.
This, Pulit said, simplifies administration so educators can focus on what they do best: teaching. For school principals and superintendents, the service consolidates reams of memos and reports. They can check it all out on one website to help chart the progress of their students and teachers for decisions on resource distribution.
The second push for Kuepa is digital content, from animation to 3D graphics and video explanations of anything from atoms to trigonometry. The impact on teaching is just as important. Interactive multimedia lessons can be more gripping for students to grasp and remember, Pulit said.
Pulit, a diplomat’s son who was educated in Argentina, Austria, Canada, Venezuela and the United States, thinks students and teachers are more than ready for digital education.
“Kids are hyper-connected,” he said. “And teachers understand that the computer is a way to catch students. It is what kids know. The question is how we can use technology to improve education and generate more interest.”
Teachers are catching on, and schools are getting wired. About 37 percent of the Latin American population has connectivity. Primary students at the No. 13 “Raul Scalabrini Ortiz” public School in Buenos Aires began using laptops for the first time this year.
Ricardo Sobron, the principal, and his assistant, Liliana Silva, view the laptops as another tool, albeit richer than a chalkboard and textbooks. They are packed with literature, plus logic and math games. “With the Internet, we can bring information from remote places to accelerate the process of investigation and enrich the content,” Silva said. Digital textbooks are up to 50 percent cheaper.
Publishers in the region, such as Grupo Planeta, Pearson and Santillana, are entering the business, mimicking efforts in the United States. This year, Apple launched iBooks 2, an e-book application for digital textbooks.Pulit expects that the iTunes Store eventually will stock digital textbooks in Spanish for the region, along with Amazon and Google. He plans to sell them on Kuepa’s website, building it into an education hub for the region.
The laptops and the new methods are proving good for sales at Kuepa, the first company to take a pan-Latin American approach to digital education services, with an eye also on Spain and the U.S. Hispanic market. Schools are testing Kuepa in Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay. More deals are in the making, as are plans to open offices in key markets and to outsource sales elsewhere, Pulit said.
With 570,000 schools in Latin America, much can be done.
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