In the early hours of the morning, a remote neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires awakens. Streets begin swarming with cars, shopkeepers roll up metal doors, and families accompany their eager children to school.
We are in Dock Sud, one of the most dangerous and poverty-stricken areas of Argentina—but in the midst of the morning mayhem, Juana Manso, a local elementary school, is flourishing.
A sea of brightly-colored backpacks floods through the doors of the school. The halls are filled with excitement and laughter, walls are plastered with children’s masterpieces, and hundreds of kids of all ages rush to class in their red and navy blue uniforms. Alejandra Grandinetti, principal of Juana Manso, cheerfully greets each passing student.
A laptop cart makes its way from classroom to classroom. Students are eager to learn about the solar system, to take typing lessons, to do research for their papers, and to gain access to information that might take weeks to find in the few out-of-date books and magazines that students have used for years.
Today, there are 20 laptops available for teachers to use—a significant number in this poor corner of the city. As a result, Juana Manso is changing the future in a neighborhood where access to technology is limited.
For years, high laptop tariffs kept electronics out of reach for many in Argentina. The work of Libertad y Progreso, an Atlas Network partner, culminated in the Macri administration eliminating a 35 percent tariff on computer imports that inflated local prices significantly. Before the tariff was removed, parents, school teachers, and small business entrepreneurs were forced to pay double what their neighbors in Chile paid for the same computer products.
“Many people believe that a public policy which reduces tariffs on computers is somewhat abstract,” says Agustín Etchebarne, the director general of Libertad y Progreso. “But there is nothing abstract about the possibility of using technology to get out of poverty. 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.”
After the tariff was eliminated, computers became far more affordable. Recognizing the importance of technology in education, a local patron made a donation to Juana Manso, ensuring that local children in this poor urban neighborhood would have access to the latest online materials.
Sofía, a 5th grader at Juana Manso, is one of many students benefiting from this policy reform. She shares a computer with her desk mate, browsing the internet for more information to help with her project on stars in the galaxy.
María de los Ángeles Pagano, Sofía’s teacher, describes her as a lively and intelligent student—always eager to show her peers and teacher what she has learned that day. “Being in school for Sofía is a way to discover possibilities for her future and to be able to see other realities,” Pagano explains.
Etchebarne and the LyP team knew that access to technology was essential for the progression of the community and their schools. Their efforts are helping children like Sofía learn critical thinking skills, prepare for future careers, and create opportunities that will improve their communities.
For a child in Dock Sud, it can be difficult to determine what lies outside the boundaries of their impoverished neighborhood. But Grandinetti describes her school as a garden in the middle of a desert—an outlet filled with hope, value, and prosperity in a place where such virtues are sparse. Thanks to the work of Libertad y Progreso, children like Sofía will be part of building a more prosperous and more technologically advanced future.