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Global Lessons from New Orleans

While much of the programming at the Consortium for School Networking's annual conference centered around how to meet state and local needs, I made a point to hear from as many folks working in other countries as possible during my three days in New Orleans.

And while ed-tech leaders in South America, Europe, and even Down Under are all enduring some of the same economic and social pressures to do more with less, it's also clear national characteristics—from politics to social norms to topography—can effect how a nation's ed-tech culture evolves.

For example, Uruguay's ability to embark upon the second phase of its ambitious national 1-to-1 netbook program appears to owe itself to a perfect storm of such conditions, according to a presentation by Laura Motta, a member of the nation's board of education, and Carla Jimenez, a consultant for the Inter-American Development bank, which is lending the country money for the project.

The nation is highly urban and has among the highest standards of living in Latin America, but it also has a disproportionately large portion of children being born in the relatively remote, rural areas that has the public's attention. As a small nation from a region with significant economic challenges, the idea of connecting every child to the Web offers its people a great sense of civic pride.

On the other end of the spectrum, the United Kingdom holds political and economic might, but it has been hampered by traditional education policies that are detrimental to education technology, according to former education ministry adviser Doug Brown. While Becta, formerly known as the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, had been lauded for making the UK's schools some of the most technologically integrated in Europe, it was recently tagged to be eliminated in national budget cuts. Its last formal day of operations is March 31.

Beyond that, Brown says that while the nation has made great pains not to cut general education funding, most technology programs aren't supported by general funds and thus are vulnerable to cuts.

Countries can also do the same work through a different structure.

Ireland's abundance of information technology companies and workers—150,000 of such workers among a population of just 4 million—is leading to an unprecedented level of public-private partnerships to support ed-tech programs in schools, said Jerome Morrissey, the director of Ireland's National Centre for Technology in Education.

In the Netherlands, projects like the www.dutchfootage.com online video repository shown in a presentation by INHolland University for Applied Sciences Professor Guus Wijngaards owe much of their content to the work of apprentices that are plentiful in a dutch education system very focused on specialization.

All of this then begs the question: What is unique about ed-tech in America? I don't pretend to have covered this beat long enough to know the answer, but I suspect part of the answer echoes what is unique about everything else in America.

Between the control our states are given over education, the wide range of education technology companies who make their home in the states, and the huge challenge of building online infrastructure in the fourth largest country by land mass on the globe, America's personality traits suggest endless possibilities.

If only figuring out the best ones for scalability were as easy as typing a search into Google.

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