Universidad ORT de Uruguay
In Uruguay, public education is required and free. Starting at age 6, children attend 6 years of primary school followed by 2 years of secondary, receiving un bachillerato upon completion. The country boasts a 98% literacy rate and has been applauded as consistently ranking highest in South America. Higher education is free for the over 80,000 who choose to attend the public university, La Universidad de la Republica.
In addition to the one public university, Uruguay has four private: Universidad Católica del Uruguay, Universidad de la Empresa, Universidad de Montevideo, and our university of three weeks, Universidad ORT. Because the only public university is in the city, rural students are hindered in their ability to pursue higher education; however, attendance has grown from 22,000 in 1970 to 61,000 in 1988 to 80,000 in 2014.
ORT is the largest of the private universities. ORT was founded in St. Petersburg, Russia, by the Jewish community 134 years ago. The learning center was established in Montevideo in 1942 to help the community emigrating during WWII to assimilate by teaching them the trades of the community’s economy.
Between the main campus in Montevideo and a second campus in Positos, there are 10,000 students in fields including architecture, engineering, biotechnology, business, economics, international relations, design, animation, communications, and education. Three blocks from El 18 de Julio, the main building of ORT stands on the corner of Calle Mercedes and Calle Cuareim, with the chemistry lab and library across the street.
It shares the street with small shops, two fruit and vegetable stands, a shoe repair, various kioskos and a variety of pastry and back shops. The main building opens with two wide glass doors, as open and inviting as the students and teachers inside.
Our primary building is a cream-colored stucco with wide silver letters branding ORT on the side. There’s a patio by the café, where smells of hot tartas and melting cheese on milanesas (a breaded piece of steak or chicken breast) drift across the rust-brown patio floor, between the picnic tables and over the adobe walls. There are brown leather couches on the first floor (though it’s a little unorthodox to sleep in them as the students elect to go home to nap), computer labs, and a design floor. And there is a steady chat of Spanish as the professors prepare for class and the students prepare for medios (midterms).
The women in our program are participating in outreach to the local community through involvement with the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) program, developed in late 2013 for the pre-existing nation-wide Plan Ceibal project.
Plan Ceibal is the Uruguayan counterpart to the One Laptop Per Child project, and Uruguay is currently connected across the country to the internet. MOOC is a pioneer course—and the first specifically for teenage Spanish speakers—offering computer programing, and developed in collaboration between MIT and ORT. As a continued effort, we are teaching the Scratch programming language (a multimedia authoring tool) to Uruguayan students.