The Future is Now?
Digital Technologies and School Reform in South America

Inés Dussel


The global jargon of educational technology has become so pervasive that is difficult to imagine the future of schooling without picturing wired classrooms and a high availability of digital devices for students and teachers, where ubiquitous learning takes place almost without any effort. However, the introduction of digital technologies at a massive level in several South American educational systems appears to be producing different effects than the ones assumed by this global talk. In the conference, I will present the findings of research done in Argentinean secondary schools, and of studies from Brazil and Uruguay, all countries where one-computer-per-child programs are being implemented, either as massive or pilot programs. The studies have looked at classroom interactions, interviewed teachers and students, school principals and families, and have analyzed students’ school assignments and texts.

Grounding on Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory and on media and visual culture studies, as well as on theories of schooling that discuss its historical and social quality, I will present three lines of arguments that emerge from this research. First, new technologies coexist with old ones in uneasy negotiations. Schools have been and are still made of available technologies and resources, and these include teachers’ and students’ mindsets, instructional resources, and also objects and digital devices that impose more constraints than the promises tell. Second, schools continue to act as strong regulatory frames for defining what is to be done with digital technologies inside the classrooms; they are organizations that have to make processes visible and accountable, and thus render digital media’s tacit knowledge into explicit school knowledge that can be talked upon, measured, and credited in a bureaucratic system. Third, schools are public institutions, and teachers are supposed to introduce discussions about truth and common knowledge –unlike media culture that is the kingdom of fame and popularity. In the classrooms observed in South American schools, it seems that there are complex strategies to make room for popular media culture but at the same time struggles to bring disciplinary knowledge and more rigorous language to the conversation. Through these three lines of arguments, I expect to discuss the pace and scope of the introduction of digital technologies in educational institutions, and also to what extent online learning networks are indeed a future towards which schools, as vital institutions of public life, should be oriented.