As the morning bell sounds at Juana Manso elementary school, students in red and navy-blue uniforms carrying brightly colored backpacks laugh and chatter as they flow past principal Alejandra Grandinetti.
Normal day. But in an abnormal place.
Juana Manso is in Dock Sud, a remote neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. It is one of the most dangerous and poverty-stricken areas of Argentina.
Students once relied on old magazines and out-of-date books for their lessons and reports. Their view of the world was essentially limited to the decay of Dock Sud.
Now a laptop cart is wheeled from classroom to classroom. Students are eager to learn about the solar system, to take typing lessons, do research for their papers, and gain instant access to information that once took lots of time to gather.
Technology came to the students of Dock Sud thanks to a push for a government policy change. Removing a tariff on technology cut some costs in half and put laptops in impoverished neighborhoods.
Discovering new galaxies
Juana Manso has 20 laptops for teachers and students to use. Students have the opportunity to explore new sources of information and expand their knowledge and view of the world.
“In the neighborhood, we are trying to establish a garden in the middle of a desert,” Grandinetti said.
Sofía, a fifth grader at Juana Manso, shares a computer with her desk mate, browsing the internet for more information to help with her project on stars in the galaxy. Sofía is lively, intelligent, and always eager to share what she has learned that day, said her teacher, María de los Ángeles Pagano.
“Being in school for Sofía is a way to discover possibilities for her future and to be able to see other realities,” Pagano said.
Internet access and technology expand vistas for students at Juana Manso. “They find the means to do things that, perhaps, they never imagined,” Pagano said.
Before the tariffs on computers were eliminated, laptops in Juana Manso would have been too expensive.
Buenos Aires-based non-profit Libertad y Progreso changed that.
The Argentinian tariff forced parents, teachers, and entrepreneurs to pay double what their neighbors in Chile paid for the same computer.
“There is nothing abstract about the possibility of using technology to get out of poverty,” said Agustín Etchebarne, director general of Libertad y Progreso. “With that digital classroom, these children—for the first time—are able to enter the world of technology and discover the window of opportunities that await them.”
The efforts of Libertad y Progreso, working with government leaders, succeeded when the 35 percent tariff on computer imports was eliminated. Argentinians would no longer be paying inflated prices for computers.
Advocates such as Etchebarne and his team at Libertad y Progreso knew the importance of technology access in education to foster progress and give students greater equity with well-off peers.
As computer prices fell and access to technology became more affordable in Argentina, a local patron recognized the opportunity technology in education offered. The rolling cart of laptops at Juana Manso was made possible by that patron’s donation, giving the children of Dock Sud access to the latest information and creating a lasting impact on the community.
Sofía and other students now learn critical thinking skills, discover new galaxies, and explore interests because a freer market gave them the tools to imagine a better future for themselves and Dock Sud.
To support causes like Juana Manso’s and other similar Dignity Unbound projects around the world, please visit https://dignityunbound.org/donate.