The British Council-managed Plan Ceibal remote teaching programme provides English lessons remotely (via video conferencing) to over 80,000 children (3,322 groups) in grades 4 to 6 (ages 9-11) in 568 Uruguayan state primary schools.

The overall objectives of the Plan Ceibal programme are to take children from beginner level to A1/A2 level on the Common European Framework by the end of grade 6 and to improve the English of the classroom teachers through a guided online self-study programme.

Three 45 minute English lessons per week are delivered into classrooms with a class size average of 25 students. Lesson A is taught by the remote teacher via video conference and the follow-up practice lessons B & C are delivered face-to-face by the local Uruguayan classroom teachers, who have little knowledge of English, using handheld devices and technology to raise the standards of English learning. The remote teaching is delivered from facilities in Argentina, Uruguay, the Philippines and the UK.

The local classroom teacher is present throughout remote lesson A, facilitating classroom management and learning the language points to be practised in lessons B & C. Team teaching is key to this project, with weekly coordination meetings between the remote teacher and classroom teacher in which the remote teacher helps the Uruguayan classroom teacher to prepare the lessons and practice the English to be covered. Detailed, step-by-step lesson plans are provided, in both English and Spanish. Often, the local teachers are only one step ahead of the students in terms of their level of English.

The local classroom teachers can also choose to improve their English through a British Council online self-access course, which is supported by e-moderators.

Does remote teaching work?

Plan Ceibal assesses the children’s progress via an annual adaptive test, created in conjunction with the British Council and the Uruguayan National Board of Public Education (ANEP). The published results indicate that learners achieve as much as those taught directly via traditional face-to-face teaching methods.

The December 2014 evaluation (which evaluated children who had been studying on the Plan Ceibal programme for between 1 and 2 years and covered 2,128 groups of grade 4, 5, and 6 pupils in 383 schools) indicated that :

  • 56% of students obtained A1 and 43% A2 level
  • The results of remote teaching were comparable to the results of pupils with presential English teachers (i.e. face to face English teaching)
  • ANEP’s report noted that: “because of these results obtained in connection to English learning, Uruguayan children are leaving primary schools with a considerable level of English.”
  • Responses from stakeholders have been overwhelmingly positive:

“We loved your teaching style and were surprised by the technology. To be able to communicate like this is really quite special for us.” Mariela, Uruguayan classroom teacher

“We have found improvements in all grades and in all social contexts. There are also marked differences in the test results in July and December. All differences are statistically significant.” Claudia Brovetto, Plan Ceibal

  • One third of the local Uruguayan classroom teachers are currently actively learning English through a guided online self-study programme and are expected to reach A2 level.
Video conferencing technology

The video conferencing hardware and dedicated internet lines provide reliable high-definition video, enabling the remote teacher to see each individual child’s face. Skilful use of the remote camera to zoom in and out and ‘move around the classroom’, together with the large screen, gives the remote teacher real presence in the classroom. Both remote teachers and students report effective interaction, with the remote teacher becoming an integral part of the school for the children. Several groups of students have insisted upon their remote teacher being included within their end of year class photos, and remote teacher Maria is still moved by the student with Down’s Syndrome who hugged the screen she was teaching from.

Remote teachers report feeling as if they are in the same room with the children. Remote teacher Araceli commented: “I am going to Montevideo to teach now". She was not leaving Buenos Aires, yet she was there.

A Learning Management System called CREA2 (supported by the Schoology platform) is used to exchange homework, written text, interactive activities and multimedia content. Through this platform, learners also have access to supplementary materials and picture dictionaries. Local Uruguayan classroom teachers also use it for discussion and to access the lesson plans.

The result is a complete communicative English course, with listening and video input, conversation practice, written practice (through the Learning Management System) and all the tools available in face-to-face classrooms.