The government of Puerto Rico announces that the Department of Education will train teachers in the use of technology. But, lacking a system transformation, this announcement will go on record as another costly and incomplete reaction to the government's already traditional technological lag, despite spending fortunes on that front.
In the third decade of the 21st century, Puerto Rico continues to fall behind in the field of information technology despite the fact that different administrations made similar announcements, whose results can be seen today in the collapse of basic services to families affected by the COVID-19 emergency.
In Education, the lack of digital resources has prevented students from completing their school year, which was interrupted at least twice this year, first by earthquakes and now by the pandemic. The current one is the third abrupt interruption of classes in less than three years, since the collapse of the power and telecommunications infrastructure after Hurricane Maria.
Thanks to federal programs such as eRate and Restart (Immediate Aid to Restart School Operation), the local government has had billions of dollars to spend on modernizing schools' computer systems and equipment.
In a 1997-2000 budget message, then-Governor Pedro Rosselló claimed to modernize education through the use of computers and to equip schools with the proper elements and infrastructure.
Former Governor Sila M. Calderón said in her 2004 state of the commonwealth address that the previous administration lost $120 million in computers that could never be used due to the lack of electrical infrastructure. She added that her administration invested more than $100 million in 10,000 new computers connected to the electricity system.
One year later, in his address, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá proposed connecting 100 percent of the schools to the Internet as an urgent goal. He described as unacceptable that in 20 years Puerto Rico had spent $35 billion on an education system that he considered triggered pity and rage.
Then, under the 21st-century school program, with ARRA funds, Luis Fortuño promised to correct the deficiencies of the education system. By 2012, he reported investing $750 million to modernize nearly one hundred schools with wireless Internet connections.
In 2016, Governor Alejandro García Padilla announced the new virtual school, a digital platform with technological tools and 24-hour access from computers, tablets, and mobile phones. It would be implemented in 700 schools for 50,000 students with $8 million through Federal Title I.
The current government has repeated similar announcements in the last two years, but this has not prevented this semester's cancellation.
In 2018, Ricardo Rosselló announced that there was $589 million from Restart allocated for school recovery. Almost a year later, he said he would spend $300 million from that program on computers for teachers and students. Again, training for teachers was announced and wifi networks in schools. That summer, he announced the acquisition of 140,000 computers. Later, they offered 115,000 computers and training for teachers and students, and thousands of tablets for kindergartners and second graders.
A month ago, Governor Wanda Vázquez announced that they would be purchasing tablets, software, and training for 325,000 students, teachers, and principals with $250 million from the pandemic aid package.
Different administrations spent enormous amounts of money on educational technology, without any significant results. Worse still, technological deficiencies repeat throughout the government structure. The distribution, typical of clientelism, worsens without accountability for the efficiency of the use of these funds. Local resources and talent are not being used to enable students to learn programming language along with their subjects.
More than recycled patches, it is urgent to develop a vision along with agile and efficient execution to enforce the laws that over time have collected, without being implemented, the aspiration of a technological government, characteristic of this era.