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Magellan 'computers in schools' project an unmitigated disaster

4643The Magalhães, or ‘Magellan’ computer, one aspect of the Technological Plan flagship of José Socrates’ educational policy, "was a failure, mainly due to its poor integration into school activities," concludes a study by the University Portucalense.

A study into schoolchildren’s portable Magalhães, or 'Magellan' computers, their impact in schools in Matosinhos and their use in education concluded that "there was not an immediate return for schools which only sporadically used this tool within the classroom."

The Magellan lap-top computers were issued under the "e-schools" and "e-Escolinhas" programmes.

"The first major implication" that the author of the study found, "is that the portable Magellans served more as a simple support and not as a central feature for innovation in teaching."

The author found that "89% of the teachers, 84% of parents and 86% of students claimed that the computers were rarely or never actually used in the classroom," according to João Paulo da Silva Miguel, author of the study conducted as part of his PhD in Education at the University Portucalense.

The study involved 682 school staff, 400 students, 181 parents and 101 teachers working in basic education in the Matosinhos school system.

The teachers soon went off the idea of computers in the classroom as the electronics kept failing, with the author pointing out a "lack of leadership, involvement and encouragement from directors, a lack of rooms equipped with power outlets and Internet access, a lack of technical assistance for the laptops which broke down frequently and lack of planning to include the Magellan in class activities and curricula aimed at students in the 1st grade of basic education."
João Paulo da Silva Miguel concluded that "the idea of mass distribution of Magellan lap-tops in order to democratise the access to technology and the everyday use in classrooms to prepare children for the future, seemed always to be heading for failure."

The project was a financial disaster as well.

In 2011 the Ministry of Education suspended the Magellan computer project with no further computers being supplied to pupils.

Albino Almeida of the National Confederation of Parents' Associations said at the time that the Minister of Education, Nuno Crato, confirmed the programme was being ‘adjusted.’

The Foundation for Mobile Communications, responsible for managing the delivery of the first phase of Magellan laptops, ended up owing €65 million to the mobile phone companies that had been providing internet connection services.

The largest debt was €50 million, owed to Portugal Telecom's offshoot TMN. Optimus was owed €14.8 million and Vodafone €500,000.

The 2008 launch of the affordable laptop personal computer for schoolchildren and college students, seen as central pillar of the Socrates government’s e-schools programme, was hailed at the time as a step forward for Portugal as an international supplier of this type of laptop computer with software and support from Microsoft.  

In June 2012, the Government terminated the contract with JP Sá Couto, maker of the portable computer, due to a lack of ‘compliance with the contractual terms and conditions.’

According to an announcement in the Official Gazette, the investment contract, signed in March 2011, became null and void. The reason given was that JP Sá Couto did not meet the deadlines set out in the contract to build a computer manufacturing plant for €10.9 million. The plant relied on financial incentives from the state as itemised in the original contract.

"It appears that JP Sá Couto, SA, to date is in breach of the obligation to implement the investment project specified in the contract, and has not adhered to the funding conditions needed to achieve the same,' said the 2012 announcement, signed by the ministers of economy and foreign affairs, Alvaro Santos Pereira and Paulo Portas.

With the termination of the investment, the project had no funds to continue. The government then "required the repayment of financial incentives that have been received by JP Sá Couto SA, plus compensatory interest as set out legally in the contract."

According to the deal signed in 2011 between JP Sá Couto and the Agency for Investment and External Commerce of Portugal, the investment was to create 200 jobs and aimed to achieve sales of €3,281 million by 2016. This of course never happened, nor was likely to with a government getting involved in the high speed world of computer hardware.

The company said at the time that it has received zero government financial support, "JP Sá Couto did not receive any money as an advance, refund or other form of incentive, or any tax benefit as a result of the project" so its management reckoned there was nothing to repay.

JP Sá Couto was undeterred at this failure to supply schools with the lap-tops and promptly announced an agreement with Telefonica to expand its business in Latin America.

"Like other companies, JP Sá Couto decided to focus on export and other markets, which influenced our investment decisions," waffled the company at the time.

Magellan was designed and produced for Portugal’s primary schools but true to form, it seldom worked, there was no tekkie support available, insufficient workable internet connections were established and the teachers saw it as a hindrance rather than an opportunity.

The laptops also became outdated quickly with cheaper options available on the open market. Most obviously, the cost of buying the Magellan laptop was too much for many parents.

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+1 #5 marty 2017-02-02 00:00
Congratulations to the author of the study.
+4 #4 Harris 2014-11-30 11:04
Same thing has been going on in the US for several years. Here's one example out of many' http://www.businessinsider.com/why-controversial-plan-to-give-ipads-to-la-public-school-students-failed-2014-10
+6 #3 Desmond 2014-11-25 16:08
Nigel Browns comment that " unlike the UK, there is no OFSTED type organisation doing annual reporting back on this !" needs to be emphasised.

It yet again totally unravels any attempt - by the Portuguese to 'equivalence' Portugal and the UK.

Across all spheres of Portuguese public and private sector activity there is no attempt whatsoever to check and re-check that procedures and laws and regulations are being followed.

Asking about Best Practice 5 years ago at the Regional Tourism Office in our region of Portugal ... and could we visit it - just got blank stares.

If only Portugal had joined the European Union 28 years ago auditing would have become the norm. Realising that things can go wrong; but then analysing how they went wrong and correcting them not repeatedly failing. Just shrugging shoulders and saying "Well, this is Portugal"

And even now ... everything just parodies developed country practice. What do Portuguese Parliamentry enquiries actually achieve? Likewise where the QREN funding goes?

With more billions coming soon does anyone check what happened to the previous billions ?
+7 #2 Nigel Brown 2014-11-25 09:21
These people could not run a whelk stall. Go into any junior school class room in Portugal and you will see the 'next generation' to Portugal's eschools project - after the Magalhoes debacle.

Equally silent and unused.

Internet linked overhead projectors and interactive whiteboards - allowing the kids to makes changes in 'real time'.

As a foreign language teacher a few years ago I realised quickly that the sub-standard teachers were the problem. Some clearly should not have been anywhere near children - but I was told, they had 'connections'. So just had to cross the road for work. Full time, for life jobs. Another, a rare star having worked outside Portugal was only ever part-time; but had to travel over 100kms each day she worked there,

As noted : a lack of technical assistance (so) broke down frequently. And being internet linked quickly clogged with viruses - as with the laptops. The kids quickly took up the technology. It is their future.

The teachers equally quickly condemned it as too much fuss.

And unlike the UK, there is no OFSTED type organisation doing annual reporting back on this !
+5 #1 Peter Booker 2014-11-24 21:03
Typical outcome when politicians foist their ideas onto an education system having taken no account of professional teacher input.

What a waste of money.

In Britain, similar non consultation takes place, with similar results.

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