Business - Written by on Wednesday, June 24, 2009 14:30 - 77 Comments

Don Tapscott
Obama should look to Portugal on how to fix schools

President Obama already knows that the nation’s schools are failing a large number of young Americans. One-third of all students drop out before finishing high school. It’s a terrible record, and it’s even worse in inner city public schools, where only half of African-Americans and Hispanics graduate from school. This is not a legacy that would make anyone proud: More young Americans on a proportionate basis drop out of school today than at any other time in our history.

This problem is undoubtedly complicated, but one of the reasons why many American youth are unmotivated and not learning well is that they’re bored in school. They’re grown up in a fast paced, challenging digital world, with the Internet, mobile devices, video games and other gadgets. They watch less television than their parents did and TV is typically a background activity. They are a generation doesn’t like to be broadcast to and they love to interact, multi-task and collaborate. Yet, when they get into the classroom, they’re faced with stale textbooks and lectures from teachers who are still using a nineteenth century innovation, chalk and blackboard.

American classrooms need to enter the 21st century. Thousands of teachers agree. Earlier this year, several important educational groups urged the president and Congress to spend nearly $10 billion to improve technology in the classroom, and ensure teachers know how to use computers most effectively.To show the way, I suggest the president take a look at a modest country across the Atlantic that’s turning into the world leader in rethinking education for the 21st century.

That country is Portugal. Its economy in early 2005 was sagging, and it was running out of the usual economic fixes. It also scored some of the lowest educational achievement results in western Europe.

So President Prime-Minister Jose Socrates took a courageous step. He decided to invest heavily in a “technological shock” to jolt his country into the 21st century. This meant, among other things, that he’d make sure everyone in the workforce could handle a computer and use the Internet effectively.

This could transform Portuguese society by giving people immediate access to world. It would open up huge opportunities that could make Portugal a richer and more competitive place. But it wouldn’t happen unless people had a computer in their hands.

In 2005, only 31% of the Portuguese households had access to the Internet. To improve this penetration, the logical place to start was in school, where there was only one computer for five kids. The aim was to have one computer for every two students by 2010.

So Portugal launched the biggest program in the world to equip every child in the country with a laptop and access to the web and the world of collaborative learning. To pay for it, Portugal tapped into both government funds and money from mobile operators who were granted 3G licenses. That subsidized the sale of one million ultra-cheap laptops to teachers, school children, and adult learners.

Here’s how it works: If you’re a teacher or a student, you can buy a laptop for 150 euros (U.S. $207). You also get a discounted rate for broadband Internet access, wired or wireless. Low income students get an even bigger discount, and connected laptops are free or virtually free for the poorest kids. For the youngest students in Grades 1 to 4, the laptop/Internet access deal is even cheaper — 50 euros for those who can pay; free for those who can’t.

That’s only the start: Portugal has invested 400 million euros to makes sure each classroom has access to the Internet. Just about every classroom in the public system now has an interactive smart board, instead of the old fashioned blackboard.

This means that nearly nine out of 10 students in Grades 1 to 4 have a laptop on their desk. The impact on the classroom is tremendous, as I saw this spring when I toured a classroom of seven-year-olds in a public school in Lisbon. It was the most exciting, noisy, collaborative classroom I have seen in the world.

The teacher directed the kids to an astronomy blog with a beautiful color image of a rotating solar system on the screen. “Now,” said the teacher, “Who knows what the equinox is?”

Nobody knew.

“Alright, why don’t you find out?”

The chattering began, as the children clustered together to figure out what an equinox was. Then one group lept up and waved their hands. They found it! They then proceeded to explain the idea to their classmates.

This, I thought, was the exact opposite of everything that is wrong with the classroom system in the United States.

The children in this Portuguese classroom were loving learning about astronomy. They were collaborating. They were working at their own pace. They barely noticed the technology, the much-vaunted laptop. It was like air to them. But it changed the relationship they had with their teacher. Instead of fidgeting in their chairs while the teacher lectures and scrawls some notes on the blackboard, they were the explorers, the discoverers, and the teacher was their helpful guide.

Yet too often, in the U.S. school system, teachers still rely on an Industrial Model of education. They deliver a lecture, the same one to all students. It’s a one-way lecture. The teacher is the expert; the students are expected to absorb what the teacher says and repeat. And students are supposed to learn alone.

Teachers often feel that this is the only way to teach a large classroom of kids, and yet the classroom in Portugal shows that giving kids laptops can free the teacher to introduce a new way of learning that’s more natural for kids who have grown up digital at home.

First, it allows teachers to step off the stage and start listening and conversing instead of just lecturing. Second, the teacher can encourage students to discover for themselves, and learn a process of discovery and critical thinking instead of just memorizing the teacher’s information. Third, the teacher can encourage students to collaborate among themselves and with others outside the school. Finally, the teacher can tailor the style of education to their students’ individual learning styles.

It’s not easy to change the model of teaching. In fact, this is the hard part. It’s far easier to spend money, as Portugal did, to put Internet into the classroom and equip the kids with laptops. ( By now, half of high school students now have them, as do four in 10 middle school students.)

Yet Portugal has been careful to invest in teacher training to capitalize on the possibilities of the laptops in schools. They’re also thinking of creating a new online platform to allow teachers to work together to create new lessons and course materials that take advantage of the interactive technology. Through this collaboration, the Portuguese school system will create exciting new online materials to educate children. Lots of ideas are already making their way into Portuguese classrooms, says Mario Franco, chair of the Foundation for Mobile Communication, which is managing the e-school program. There are 50 different educational programs and games inside the laptops the youngest children use. The laptops are even equipped with a control to encourage kids to finish their homework and score high marks. If they do, they get more time to play.

It’s too early to assess the impact on learning in Portuguese schools. Studies of the impact of computers in schools elsewhere have been inconclusive, or mixed. One key problem is that simply providing computers in schools is not enough. Teachers facing a classroom of kids with laptops need to learn that they are no longer the expert in their domain; the Internet is.

Yet Portugal is on a campaign to reinvent learning for the 21st century. The technology is only one part of that campaign. The real work is creating a new model of learning.

I believe this could help the U.S. revive students’ interest in school and perhaps keep them in school long enough to graduate, and even go to college. It would be a substantial investment. It’s estimated that the total cost of giving a computer to each student, including connection to networks, training, and maintenance, is over $1,000 per year.

Yet after seeing the promise of the exciting classrooms in Portugal, I’m convinced it is worth it. Your child should be so fortunate.


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Pedro Rios
Jun 24, 2009 15:15

Nice article.

Just a correction: Sócrates is Portuguese prime-minister, not President.

Bruno Calheira
Jun 24, 2009 15:48

Here in Brazil the government is trying to distribute one laptop per child, but as your article shows that “to put Internet into the classroom and equip the kids with laptops” is the easy part. We have to try a more collaborative learning process.

Pedro Silva
Jun 24, 2009 15:59

José Socrates is the Prime-minister, not President (That´s Cavaco Silva). Check it out here: and

Jun 24, 2009 16:02

More accurately:

Students from grades 1 to 4 get a laptop specially designed for children (a version of the Intel Classmate PC) — but no Internet access (they’ll have access at schools , of course). Internet at home or wireless will have to be payed separately.

Older students, teachers (and adults in a special requalification program) get a regular laptop (there are several brands to choose from) for the €150, and the discount/free Internet.

And José Sócrates is Portuguese prime-minister.

Jun 24, 2009 16:05

And a positive side effect:

The children laptop is an Intel Classmate assembled in Portugal. That created a few hundred jobs and a wealthy company, now exporting the product to other countries.

Robin Good
Jun 24, 2009 17:19

Couldn’t agree more Don and am thankful to you for having shared the valuable story of Portugal.

Education really needs to rethink itself and the more we provide examples, ideas and models to look up to the easier it may be to gradually contaminate those who can indeed change how things are done.

Since, I have much at heart these same issues as well, I recently wrote something that you may find interesting for you to read:

Jun 24, 2009 17:38

Do you have any idea how this measures actually works and what are the terms for acquiring a laptop? Do you have any idea what is actually important and should be regarded as a priority in the Portuguese school system? Of course you don’t.

Statu Quo - webzine de Cláudio Carvalho | Obama deve "olhar para Portugal como um exemplo" a seguir
Jun 24, 2009 18:00

[...] Don Tapscott, fundador e Charmain da empresa nGenera e ainda, prestigiado consultor mundo dos negócios, aconselhou hoje, Barack Obama a “olhar” para Portugal como exemplo na questão da renovação do parque escolar, num artigo divulgado no espaço Wikinomics. [...]

Sá Peliteiro
Jun 24, 2009 18:29

Obama is really naive.
With Sócrates’ government everything is fake.

Jun 24, 2009 18:35

Besides all the bumps(and the weird business) it is a big jump in this old Portugal.Another big issue is that these laptops come with linux pre installed, lets see the future benefits of this.

.Ana Lutetia. » Hair Fair 2009 | take 6
Jun 24, 2009 19:23

[...] envolving a bus… I had to drive around it and lost even more time. *sigh* And this guy says my country is an example. Oh well… he doesn’t live here. We have great weather [...]

Jun 25, 2009 3:34

Read about this initiatives it’s very powerfull to encourage people to think about what to do for getting the education to the next level. Particulary in my case, im thinking how ordinary people, not only the goverment, can contribute to this effort.

links for 2009-06-25 « lugar do conhecimento
Jun 25, 2009 5:02

[...] Obama should look to Portugal on how to fix schools [...]

Ana Cristina Sousa
Jun 25, 2009 6:29

This is just such an exciting time for me as Coordinator of Portuguese Programs in California! That I can use educational change in my country as a model for what we are trying to accomplish in California.

I’ve been working with technology in education since 1996, first in the US, then Portugal, then back to the US, and suddenly there’s this whole community of teachers in Portugal – my colleagues – with whom teachers of Portuguese in California can begin to talk to and network with.

The biggest problems that we face in California are, on the one hand, poor wireless connectivity that can fail during class, meetings, presentations (namely in the Central Valley); on the other hand, school network systems that are managed like fortresses – neither students, nor teachers, or even administrators have permission to do basic things like creating and sharing a Google presentation. Any exchange and collaborative project may be stalled by a sudden change in security and access levels dictated by someone in the district office.

My colleagues in Portugal often ask me and with reason: “Where are you located exactly? The Norh Pole?”

Jun 25, 2009 6:36


1. The contract was not subject to a public tender as it should have been;

2. The only assembly involved is the HDD, memory, keyboard and one of the covers.

Joaquim Baptista
Jun 25, 2009 6:59

As they say, the devil is in the details. In this case, the Internet subscription.

Students in grades 1 to 4 may opt out of the “discounted” Internet deal. Older recurring students in the “new opportunities” program are only required to pay 1 or 2 years of Internet. Very poor students get a discounted Internet price that is probably too expensive for them.

For most regular students, however, the whole package would cost €1000 over 3 years with an Internet connection that allowed 1GB of downloads each month, with extra charges after that cap. For the YouTube generation, that limit is ridiculous.

I personally coached a poorer student to get a 2nd-hand Macintosh and a regular ADSL connection for a fraction of the cost.

So, the government actually paid a very small fraction of the whole computers+Internet “investment”, while the 3G operators got a million new Internet subscribers in an year.

About the abilities of teachers to use the new computers, it greatly varies with the individual teacher. Some teachers are just horrified to have to use computers at all. Most teachers have no idea of how to use a computer in the classroom. Many teachers realized with a deep shock that they were expected to serve as “system administrators” for the computers of their students.

A teachers’ course about the computer distributed to grades 1-4 (called Magalhães) became a laughing stock when teachers were asked to create songs about the new computer. Discussions of the usage of computers in the classroom were absent.

In the particular school where my daughter studies (grade 7), what I see is that most students have computers, but the computers stay firmly at home. The fact that the school stresses that it cannot be held accountable for robbery inside the school grounds certainly helps. In this school, teachers like to “talk to” students and not “talk with” them, and most of them certainly hate to talk to parents. As you may have guessed by now, the marks of students in this school are quite low.

So, while Obama may look to Portugal for inspiration (and “Escola da Ponte” is certainly inspiring), I suggest that he should really consider the details to avoid an elaborate lie.

Jun 25, 2009 7:34

Don, great article.
By the way, the ultra-cheap laptop is called Magalhães in honor to the portuguese navigator:

Some useful links (in PT): (Linux OS)

José Mota
Jun 25, 2009 7:40

I agree in general with your view on Education and on how schools must change to meet the needs and expectations of today’s generation of learners.

However, most of what you say about education in Portugal is not true, unfortunately. It’s so detached from reality it borders on fiction.

In my opinion, the Magalhães program is, in itself, a positive thing – it’s good that kids who otherwise couldn’t have a computer now have their own laptops (with Internet access, if their parents pay for it). But the leap you make into pedagogic change and good management of the educacional system is only wishful thinking, unfounded, uninformed and plain false. The last two years have been some of the worst in Portuguese Education for the last 30 years, with a very deep conflict between teachers and the Ministry of Education that is still going on.

I don’t know if you have been deliberately misinformed or led to think that the examples you were shown were general practice in most schools in the country, but you have been made to act as a political marketer for the Portuguese government. Sorry to say that :-) .

Jun 25, 2009 8:08

Hi There,
Sócrates is the Portuguese prime-minister. our President is Aníbal Cavaco Silva.
The name of those Laptops is Magalhães (that was a portuguese navigator).
But here’s the other side of the story… It still is far away of being perfect. The Laptop still has some errors in its chipset and the portuguese company that assembles Magalhães, before getting this project, used to owe a huge amount to the Portuguse Government and was almost going on bankrupcy.
But nothing is perfect… And if Portugal could (and specially with Socrates in charge) could do that, i am sure that in the US with Obama it would indeed work almost perfectly!

joao santos
Jun 25, 2009 8:43

fantastic paper!

Obama e o Plano Tecnológico : Re-Formar
Jun 25, 2009 9:03

[...] Don Tapscott, um dos autores do conhecido livro Wikinomics e que possui um blog com o mesmo nome, publicou ontem um artigo denominado Obama should look to Portugal on how to fix schools. [...]

Jun 25, 2009 9:17

Ultra-cheap? Far from the truth!

I know what I’m saying, I’m a teacher in Portugal.

To teachers and more than half the students, these are the actual numbers: (

initial payment: €150 or $207
36 mandatory payments (to mandatory internet access) of €17,87 or $24,66
grand total: €793,32 or $1095

These laptops can be bought in stores by anybody, for under €500 (some €400).

Of course you don´t have the internet included, but do you really want the included internet?

1GB of download traffic per month after witch it gets suspended, (with an average of 1Mbps speed). If we really use the internet with all its services, we can easily surpass this in a day or two.

Some of my students said that they couldn’t go to my blog to study, because they didn’t have enough download credit.

By the way, the great concern the kids have, is if the GPU (graphic card) is powerful enough to support the latest games.

I had to buy a laptop but not one from the government program. I already had internet and I needed more than the speed and traffic limit offered. If I did, I had to pay 2 ISP!!

This was a great deal for the ISPs in Portugal. They bought laptops for €250 or €300, and sold them for almost €800 (albeit providing a ridicule internet access).

They only lost money with the laptops sold to the most needed children (way less than half), but the profit from the teachers and other students more than covered this.

And this is even a greater deal for the ISPs if you think that they shouldn’t be in it for the profit. (the text says it – “Portugal tapped into both government funds and money from mobile operators who were granted 3G licenses”)

They had to pay something (a lot) for those licenses. Not only they didn’t pay anything, they even turned the situation into profit.

A funny thing, just one hour ago I received this message from a student who had his mother in an adult learning program (by the way, if you knew these programs you wouldn’t recommend them to your worst enemy): “Hi teacher, my mom just received her laptop. Not bad since classes ended more than 2 months ago!” (I translated, of course)

Yes, I believe “education needs to rethink itself”, but PLEASE, don´t look at Portugal to learn what to do, but what not.

Jose Paulo Santos
Jun 25, 2009 10:26

Hi, Don, first of all, I’m happy to read your article.

I would like to undeline one of your statements: “Yet Portugal is on a campaign to reinvent learning for the 21st century. The technology is only one part of that campaign. The real work is creating a new model of learning.”
There some criticism coming from teachers about Magalhaes laptop pc and some other ICT initiatives, but the amazing thing is that there’s a growing enthusiam too about the possibility of using technologies in every schools and classrooms.
With the Promethean interactive whiteboards and the 100mbps broadband access, the opportunities are growing for every teacher to improve their ICT skills and to enhance the learning process with multimedia tools in the classroom.
It’s just a matter of time, but I’m sure we’ll find, not one, but many enjoyable teaching and learning models for the 21st century Education.
Anyway, it’s important for all the teachers that this is a big challenge and all of us must be part of it, making any efforts to build news ways of teaching, based on the collaboration and sharing attitude.

Thank you, Don!

samantha clewes
Jun 25, 2009 11:58

very interesting article

Obama should look to Portugal on how to fix schools « holoceno
Jun 25, 2009 19:04

[...] título “Obama should look to Portugal on how to fix schools” parece transmitir uma certa arrogância e [...]

Ana A
Jun 25, 2009 21:07

Yeah, that’s really cute but you forgot to mention that half the students are yet to receive their already paid “Magalhães” computers and those who already have them at home… Well, almost no one has the computer at home because they have sent them to fix the huge amount of problems they were presenting.

The idea may have been great, but it just doesn’t work. I know it, my mom is a forth grade teacher…

Jun 26, 2009 5:48

Mr Socrates has too many ideas (not all great) and I hope that, after reading this article, he could be modest in his later speeches. Anyway, this innovation is indeed welcome, however all of us, Portuguese people, know that Magalhaes is good, but it is good and functional at home because in classroom is very complicated to conciliate it with children from 6 to 10 years.

In the other hand, it is funny how I never needed a laptop until finish the high-school, my old computer was enough. So, I think that is at University (where teachers hand-written documents and ask for these to be delivered via email)that these innovations and assistance are most needed.

Anyway, Don, thanks for showing to some Americans that Portugal is a great country to!

Jun 26, 2009 10:41

Hello, Don.
Another thing that you’ve might learn when you where in Lisbon was that our cultural music is Fado and that it is a very melancholic and sad music.
So, Portuguese don’t really like to ear good things about themselves..

It’s pathetic that on these comments we can only see Portuguese comments backlashing Portugal and the government and our education, when the post is so positive and clearly shows that some things are really exciting and on the right direction here in Portugal.

It’s just our way Don, we just don’t want to ear good things..

I’ll be waiting for more backlash or bad news as we so adore.

(good post with great points)

Diogo Rendeiro
Jun 26, 2009 11:54

It has been said before, just to state it again: José Socrates wages war against teachers as a class, softened up examination requirements, and even his higher school education has been questioned as he was made engineer by favour in a diploma mill university.

Socrates government is all about bad policy + great marketing. You’ve been mislead by his army of spindoctors.

Check wikipedia on “Portugal” + “Education” and you will see there are facts to back this claims.

We had over 80 thousand teachers marching on the streets of Lisbon against this government.

While Magalhães and e-Escolas are good projects, they’re far from free, they have strings attached (internet subscriptions for 2 years).

Seeing someone write something so nice of Portugal that is so detached from the harsh reality of our educational system makes me sad. I bought Wikinomics a few years ago, but I’m sorry to tell you I don’t respect you the same way I used to.

Nuno Garcia
Jun 26, 2009 14:52

Hi all. I mentioned the current Portuguese school scenario in an international conference last month. There where scientists from almost every continent and everyone was amazed with the dimension and the boldness of the operation. Hopefully, this will bring benefits to the country, but more important yet, it will bring the new portuguese generations closer to new economy of knowledge. I know for sure that my two kids are far better prepared, mostly because of the Sócrates’ government policies. Sócrates’ vision on this is alone worth my vote. On the other hand, politics are politics, and not everyone is happy.
On a quick comment to a previous comment: the laptops are provided with a GSM broadband modem, and its connection must be payed (5 euros for the poorer kids, and some 15 euros for the rest, per month). But – if you don’t plan to use the GSM connection, you don’t have to activate it and you don’t have to pay.

Mr. Tapscott, thank you for your insightful vision. More politicians need to follow José Sócrates’ footsteps.

Jun 26, 2009 16:48

Obviously this article was made without knowing what _exactly_ is going on.

Who cares about computers when most portuguese schools don’t have even heating or basic hygiene (clean bathrooms, or even toilet paper – some schools don’t even have a bathroom!) ?

If that’s what Americans want for their schools – I’m disappointed.

Also, the “investment on teacher training” is laughable. Teachers in Portugal are divided in two big groups – those that care and have no support (training? Haha), and those who don’t care. Some of the latter use physical violence on the students as means of education, and such is openly accepted.

This is a very poor article – I suggest next time you investigate your facts better.

Jun 26, 2009 17:03

My comment: Great idea, lousy implementation.

Facilitating students’ access to computers and Internet is, in itself, a worthy goal, but before you do that you have to prepare the teachers for the change.

Before sticking a laptop loaded with windows and linux in a classroom, the teachers must be prepared to deal with this, both technologically and pedagogically. That didn’t happen.

It will happen, very slowly, as teachers realize there is no going back to blackboards and xerox machines.

It’s a shame that the process wasn’t thought through. I guess it is part of our nature to improvise everything on the spot.

Nuno Pereira
Jun 26, 2009 19:52

After reading some comments from some portuguese people here I thought I have say something here…
Portuguese people like routine and stagnation…that’s why when someone tries to change this everybody goes to the streets and protest…we know how to be mad and criticise others people work. besides that, we like to accommodate…to our routine, work place, work method…

The “deep conflict” between the teachers and the government is because the government wants to implement a teacher evaluation system… when the teachers heard that they were going to be evaluated they were frighten that they may loose their job because many of them are accommodated in their school giving the same subjects in the same way over and over again since their are teachers…so, when they heard about “evaluation”, “inovation”, “new methods” they start protesting and refuse to obey the laws by sabotaging the evaluation system…

In my opinion, the “e-school” program is an excellent program…an unlike what everybody thinks, it is NOT good business for the ISP. remember the ISPs here are mobile (3G) operators…mobile internet was (and still is) very “green” when the program started…the new over 1 million clients are a growing more than the 3G network can support…because of the “e-school” program the mobile ISP now have more unhappy clients as there are more users than what the network supports… the ISP are only in the program because they are “obligated” by the arrangement made when the 3G was licensed. for each “e-school” pc that the ISP give, the money that it invested in the pc is only returned after 3 year (pc cost + service maintainence). this is NOT the definition of a good investment (profit after 3 year, when most likely the user will cancel the subscription) besides the fact that the existing clients (and full paying) of the ISPs are now more unsatisfied than they were before (due to network overload). this was already said by a manager(don’t recall the name or position) of TMN (the biggest mobile operator in Portugal) in an interview to an informatics magazine. The TMN manager give that this program is being a pain in the ass to the mobile operators, as they are obligated to invest in a business that doesn’t returns the investment. My question about this is: what is going to happen when the 3G operators reach the value of investment that they are obligated by the arrangement? will the program end?

As i said before, the “e-school” is a great program…maybe is not what we needed most, but in the future it will have its benefits…as it was said here, I also didn’t need a laptop until I went to college, and a desktop is enough…but this is age of laptops and everybody has a laptop…even if it is only to be on the top of the desk all the time.
For me personally I would have preferred if the government made the “e-school” for college students: I was in college when the program started and I had to request a finance, that i’m still paying for, to afford to have a laptop…and the laptop was more important to my course(computer science) than a notebook, books, or pens… but as a politician decision thinking about the future I realise that giving computers to kids(starting on the bottom), that in other way wouldn’t have a pc, is a better investment than to give computers to college students, that would have to buy one anyway. lets not forget that the goal here is to expand the new technologies to “new grounds”…
about the utility of the laptop on the classroom, I don’t think this is the more important…at home the pc can also be very usefull in the learning process, and it is not because of the students leaving the pc home that this means that the pc is being left apart in the learning process.

as a last comment, about the teachers’ course about the “Magalhães” (grades 1-4) this is another example of how small minded Portuguese people are…the “laughing stock” was only because the people how lead the course (that by the way were American, I think that there was also someone from intel) are much further in the way of “teaching” and presented a method to “inovative” to portuguese teachers… as the images that were revealed show that the teachers that were really participating were enjoying their selfs… the “laughing stock” to me was to read in a blog a teacher very offended because he went to participate in a course and when it gets there he didn’t like the methods, so refused to participate on the propused activities… so he goes home and writes on his blog what a bad course the govermnent gave, and that he REFUSED to participate in the activities…and complains about not learning anything on the course. OF COURSE, he refused to participate…if his students refuse to participate in his classes i’m sure they won’t learn anything…this was the blog that was talked about in television…no one show the comments and bloggers that quickly went to say that they participated in the activities and that they learned some ideas of how to use the computer in the classroom…

perhaps the teacher that Don Tapscott saw participated in this course ;)

thanks for noticing that Portugal also has some good things…even that they are not the better…about using Portugal as a model…only in theory, the changes that are being made are well intentioned and might be very good on the paper…but the implementation is not always well done, and our educational system isn’t that great, although it has some good ideas that can be reused/improved…

Nuno Pereira
Jun 26, 2009 20:28

some quick final considerations:
- what makes the educational system are the people, not the machines
- yes, what students want from their laptops are great graphic cards to play the latest games…but in the meanwhile they will learn to use the computer to work, and for that the parents play a more important role than the teachers…

When I got my first computer I just want to play…but then I got bored…but still, when I choose my first laptop I was looking for cheapest with a great graphic…the next after that I didn’t care about the graphic (I got an IGP with shared memory) as I don’t care about games and it is rare to play games (and when I do its stuff like miniclip)…I spend most of the day in front of a pc…not always working, but almost never playing… Yet the time that a i spent (and continue to spend) in front of a pc, whether working or playing or whatever, contributed to my education and mostly to my understanding of informatics. That allowed me to have a good background and a good knowledge when I first started my academic formation in informatics…ok, I’m from computer science, so of course it is important to know about computers…but nowadays everyone has to know how to use a computer…and it is impressive the number of college students that don’t know how to use Word!!! so lets think on a long term…kids that are know in grades 5-7: what job will they have in 10 years if don’t know how to use a pc? we have to let kids play with pcs, to feel comfortable with them, to mastered them…most of them don’t have the possibilities of having one. Schools have to introduce computer to kids, and the schools have lack of computers. By obligating the mobile operators to invest the government is reducing the investment that they should have made.

John Henninger
Jun 27, 2009 13:52


Jun 27, 2009 19:40

Very interesting discussion, certainly the US schools have to make an effort to change. Let’s not forget that the “One Laptop Per Child” idea originally came from the USA, but they went overseas looking for interest because no one in the USA believed that cheap laptops were realistic (until the Netbook craze came along, thanks to the ASUS eeepc 700 series).

The makers of the XO laptop got kind of cranky that intel managed to beat them with the Classmate. Comment copied from the XO site:

“The company that will assemble the Magalhães classmate computers is JP Sá Couto, who did a huge favour to Microsoft by joining (without any discernible motive) the portuguese ISO technical committee 173 and blindly vote in favour of Microsoft OOXML.

Recently they also had a partnership with Microsoft.”

Jun 28, 2009 13:28

Excellent article Don. It’s sad, but only outsiders of Portugal can see in fact the great policies that are at this moment put into practice.

Portuguese people never, but never say that “something is good” (even when in fact it is, like on this case), everything is always very bad. Poor mentalitys, sadly…

Like that, thanks to the government, a lot of things where made in Portugal, but anyone want to see it, they only prefer to see the bad things. Things like the reusable energy investment that it is recognized worldwide. Important future new infrastructures that give work to thousands of people, Magalhães, a huge technology improve, a lots of funds to the companys and unemployed people, etc, etc, etc.

Anything like this types investment where made in the history of Portugal.

Jun 28, 2009 13:38

By the way, in some cases, this laptop the free:

And for very poor kids to:
Para os alunos subsidiados pelo escalão A o pc é gratuito, os restantes terão que pagar 50 euros. O PC será colocado à venda na FNAC no dia 23 de Setembro pela quantia de 200 euros.


Jun 28, 2009 15:00

Look… Not all of them, but very probably, some of the negative comments here expounded about the famous laptop Magalhães (you call it Magellan) which is being distributed in first grade portuguese schools (and even exported with sucess to some countries), come from people motivated by political reasons (the majority of them being members of the Portuguese Communist Party or extreme left wing parties who are fighting the government performing their role as the opposition in our Parliament and appealing to the population in general and to other teachers who are not communists or leftists to participate in massive public manifestations against the government and, especially, the Education Ministry… What is true is that this project was and is a positive step ahead in the progress of education in Portugal. Does it need to be improved? Certainly it needs: there is no human task which is perfect at the outset, but, better than not doing anything, is to try to do something new and far reaching.

Hugo Miguel Filipe
Jun 29, 2009 10:34


I’m a portuguese K12 computer science (informática) teacher, working by Mr. P.M. Sócrates and his government colleagues’ laws since 2004.

In these years I’ve seen Computer Science subjects disappear from curricular structures. Ideally, these subjects should have been restructured accordingly to today’s communication paradigms.

No. Instead, actual educational ministry shows the real priority: statistics.

However, I must agree with the e-Schools initiative (Iniciativa e-escola). I even bought a PC laptop in these terms. I do not discuss the value of such enterprise. I just wished for a global sight… This program is apparently positive… but fails due to its isolated nature, quickly loosing it “on the edge” effect.
Nor teachers neither schools are prepared… not even some students!

We need a more profound change… How can we manage 28 or more computerized students in one class? With state-of-the-art approaches?! We’re waiting… so are students!

Besides, there is too much noise around this initiative. For instants, the manufacturer/assembler of Magalhães (PC for 1-4 grades) got the facilities searched by police (, due to taxes evasion suspicion, why don’t we use Linux instead of Microsoft products, why we adopt Intel’s PC ( for children instead OLPC XO (… Why?

My answers:

Best regards!

Jun 29, 2009 16:41

Well i would like to say that your article gives a very positive idea of the Project. And thank you to say finally something nice about Portugal. Os a fresh air from the outside when we see Portugal’s poor performance on all those European studies.
Said is the fact that Portuguese people are those who are complaining. It’s in their nature. I know what I mean I have studied their culture and I’m one of them too, even if just recently. I guess I complain but I’m more optimistic. My parents had to leave Portugal to get some extra money and I grew up outside Portugal. When I finally came back, it was a terrible culture shock. In Luxemburg we never complain. We are supposed to not complain because we “live “good. In Portugal, however everybody complains, even when they live well. Portuguese people are never satisfied. Or in other words they don’t react very well to changes. For my master paper I had to compare Portuguese and German culture. At the end I found out that Portuguese people don’t like changes. In other words Portugal is a great country with a lot to complain.
When I get to hear from some people that they wish there should be another politician as Salazar. I just think that most of these people like to live in fear, to be mistreated and be stolen without knowing it. The idea of Mister Socrates was not bad. It wasn’t very well thought but i still think it was a good idea. And then you only get one of these computers of you really want to. He didn’t force anyone. The biggest problem with education in Portugal and I mean, I have lived it, are the teachers. I have to say that I had a lot of very bad teachers. When I came to Portugal most of the teachers didn’t like the fact that I knew more than them, just because I already hade acquired the stuff that should be given here. For example German is one of my mother languages and I remember to have always full marks and my teacher wanted me to have the full marks. But one of the high representatives of the teachers said in my face: “20 is for God, 19 for the teachers and 18for the students!” I have to say I thought that the world was going under. I was very disappointed and said. So I decided to cancel German and just make the exam for college. As I might be “some kind of God” I got without studying full marks on the exam. Some people said I was lucky, I think I wasn’t lucky , in fact I just knew because it’s my mother language. I think there is nothing more to comment on that.
Now that my sister is in school I get more proofs that most of the time the problem realizes on the people/teacher and also students. Technology is good and they are schools were it works perfectly because everybody collaborates. But there are also schools where teaching is not a pleasure but hard work for those who say that teaching is something they like(teachers). I guess they never worked in a

Great article I still think it was positive and the most important thing was in it.

Obama and Portuguese schools « gonssalo’s Blog
Jun 29, 2009 18:06

[...] Obama and Portuguese schools Posted 29th Junho – 2009 Filed under: 1 | Obama should look to Portugal on how to fix schools [...]

Um leitor chocado! « Fomos…
Jun 29, 2009 18:26

[...] Um leitor chocado! Junho 29, 2009 at 11:26 pm | In Emigrar | Leave a Comment Recentemente, um “jornalista” americano, muito mal informado ou com um trabalho de pesquisa pobre, escreveu um artigo em que sugeria ao presidente Obama que aprendesse com as escolas Portuguesas. [...]

Jun 29, 2009 20:31

Mr. Don Tapscott: Pardon my french but…in wich world are you livin ?
wanna put your sons studing in portugal? Please!

Tres tipos de empresas 2.0 | Evento Blog España
Jun 30, 2009 2:14

[...] Para ello, para llegar a ese status, es muy necesario que las escuelas previamente obtenganun giro considerable, como el que se está detectando en Portugal para implicar debidamente a los [...]

scorpio mab
Jun 30, 2009 7:39

Jun 30, 2009 9:30

I’m a teacher and a mother with 2 primary school children in Portugal and let me tell you that in most primary schools we are not using the laptop MAGALHAES because it is full of spelling mistakes also in the outskirts of Lisbon the network does not work…hahaha. Finally most teachers do not have the time to work with the laptop in class. I have 2 MAGALHAES at home for which I paid 50 euros each (about 75 dollars each) and they are used as toys unless I supervise. You say these computers are cheep but ifyou takeinto account that most 4 member families in Portugal live on under 1000 euros a month they are not that inexpensive

Jose' Neto
Jun 30, 2009 11:06

As you know, here you didn”t your homework, which would see a representative sample of schools if you wanted to speak about Portuguese schools. Our “technological shock” was only used to contain the Portuguese budget deficit. After the deal with the operators of mobile phones has become the responsibility of students and teachers to purchase computers. Thus the government stopped spending money on computers to equip the schools. The price of computers has a low entry (150 EUR) but users must pay the use of the Internet, and in case of intensive use monthly payments becomes unsustainable.

We didn”t have interactive smart board in every classrooms. 4 or 5 classrooms in a school may have this equipment.

1. To install the access points to the wireless network the government decided to build a second network of Internet access in all schools, regardless of the investments already made. Often the Internet is too slow or your signal so weak that not enough to classrooms;
2. The Magalhães computer is manufactured by a company selected by dubious criteria, was full of misspellings, and some no longer work. Poor households that get free, they are selling them for 50 EUR.

Do you know the major crime of the Portuguese school, named New Opportunities?
- Speaks about Internet and technology of communication without computers;
- Don”t teach any subject: All traditional sciences were banned: Math, Geography, Biology, Economics, Physics….
- Finally, students don”t have grades. So, they have a great success and EVERYBODY IS HAPPY.
You don”t need this kind of noise at America.

Mafalda Moreira Santos
Jul 1, 2009 9:19

I am Portuguese, and very proud of this magnificent project that puts my country not only before so many others in terms of use of technology as well as of modernizing and updating education, bringing it into the next level.

But most of all, what satisfies me the most in this program, that i thank Prime Minister José Socrates for, is that children, the next generation is who will benefit from this measure we set today.
And if the future had always been a real concern of all governments, our present days would all be much better. That’s why i welcome everything that will improve future generations as this education policy most certainly does.

This should in fact be set as an example to follow all over the world, as says Dan Tapscott a well renowned specialist in Government policies.

And i only pity my countrymen that try to minimize and put to earth such a good example Portugal is being, only because their political color is different and because they feel that if it’s done by the other party, even if its good for our nation, then it must be set down and criticized.

Above politics, should be people.
Thank you Mr. Prime-Minister. And for the sake of every children around the world, i hope every other governors follow your great example.

This is such a good way to see our money spent!

Obama should look to Portugal on how to fix schools - FRUM AUTOHOJE ONLINE
Jul 2, 2009 5:38

[...] should look to Portugal on how to fix schools Aqui Epa…vindo de quem vem…. O Scrates ainda vai conseguindo enganar uns quantos [...]

P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » The Portuguese digital and collaborative learning revolution
Jul 2, 2009 5:39

[...] reportage in the Wikinomics blog, about the recent experiences in [...]

Ricardo C.
Jul 2, 2009 7:52

This article can give you a nice picture of the project but it’s not the reality of the country.
The project it’s a good project, a very nice project. But it doesn’t work.
I teach informatics (it’s my secondary activitie) to adults who have access to that computers and 60% doesn’t know how to turn the pc on. And in 50 hours nobody can do miracles, and believe that I try. Just for example: I’m teaching how to use Word 2007 to people who doesn’t know how to move the mouse. There is no organization.

Our basic school it’s not prepared to teach using the computer.
And the company who made the computers to children (AKA Magalhães) it’s a company that is being investigated because did not paid the taxes. And we are talking of millions of Euros.

And like someone already said that the government program “New Opportunities” it is supposed to re qualify adults who left school without finish the education. They finish in 3 or 4 years the education that (in the “normal” school) normally takes 7 years to finish. It’s hard to explain that in English, but I have students in the parallel education system (called Professional Formation) that were sent by the “New Opportunities” school!!!
Of course that in a few year we will have only people with High School, but what have they learned? Nothing.

The end, simply does not justify the means. We will have a population with diploma but without knowledge.

Our Government is prepared to turn the minimum Mandatory Education to the High School (17/18 years old), right know it’s on 15. Of course that we will have an High School population graduated.

This is complicated, you must live here to understand. Children doesn’t respect the teachers, there are plenty disciplinary problems in the schools and the teacher are forced to pass all the students. Of course there are exceptions, but the rule is to pass everyone.

The article didn’t mentions that the teacher are in battle against the Government policy and that there was plenty teachers manifestations. And our Government simply ignore 100 000 teachers manifestation.

I repeat, the project it’s a good project but it simply doesn’t change anything in the people culture and education, we will have a population with 3 or 4 pc’s at home, but only the young folks will know how to work with them.

We have an estimated population of 10.000.000 people, we have something like 300.000 unemployed people. I don’t have the numbers of children (who doesn’t’ work) or the seniors (who doesn’t work too), but I know that we have one of oldest population in Europe. So, how can this 300.000 pay the internet?

Don, come live just one year in Portugal and then see the results of the program. The program is very good, but it has no success in population and by success I mean increase if the literacy.

Jul 2, 2009 9:57

Well Don, you can learn something else from Portugal: no matter how good things are, a typical Portuguese will always point you the downside. That’s a shame…
Maybe all this Magalhães process wasn’t perfect, but is it possible so many portuguese can only say bad things about it?

Nuno Sousa
Jul 2, 2009 11:35

The biggest, and not mentioned, is the project for the rehabilitation of a large number of portuguese schools by the best portuguese architects.

there are some examples in this website

It´s name is Parque Escolar.

Jul 2, 2009 17:32

Why a computer for each student, when the schools are unable, and if neither have toilet paper.

Stefan Meretz
Jul 2, 2009 17:58

Nice but limited project. If not combined with an initiative to move to free software it feels mainly like a national support for this Magalhães company and Microsoft. Learning in school should be free of preparing people for and directing to proprietary software they have to buy after school, because they only know proprietary software.

Jose' Neto
Jul 3, 2009 10:52

@netodays Don Tapscott Mind this gap. Why don’t look to Fins if they have better results? Image here

Política com Causas | Falar a verdade na Maia (e no país)
Jul 6, 2009 3:10

[...] fundador e Charmain da empresa nGenera e ainda, prestigiado consultor no mundo dos negócios, aconselhou inclusivé, Barack Obama a “olhar” para Portugal como exemplo na questão da renovação do [...]

Statu Quo - webzine de Claudio Carvalho | Falar a verdade na Maia (e no país)
Jul 6, 2009 11:22

[...] fundador e Charmain da empresa nGenera e ainda, prestigiado consultor no mundo dos negócios, aconselhou inclusivé, Barack Obama a “olhar” para Portugal como exemplo na questão da renovação do [...]

Sonia Gabrysova
Jul 6, 2009 17:27

US education should be rather rethinked in a way of basic mandatory study package, which in my opinion and great experiences is the main reason of US-student gap against other countries.
Students up to high-school should be allowed only between 10-20% on own subjects selection. Digitalization is a step towards but there is certainly nothing boring about blackboard & chalk, which by the way has proved higher learning score when students copy notes from the teacher, rather saving whole folder on own PC.

Learning in Taiwan, Portugal at Joanne Jacobs
Jul 13, 2009 7:40

[...] is investing heavily in interactive whiteboards and laptops, writes Don Tapscott on Wikinomics. But what’s remarkable about seven-year-olds looking up the [...]

Learning in Taiwan, Portugal - Online Education in America
Jul 13, 2009 7:56

[...] students through a science project that involved drawing. Portugal is investing heavily in interactive whiteboards and laptops, writes Don Tapscott on Wikinomics. But what’s remarkable about seven-year-olds looking up the [...]

Gwyn’s Home » Blog Archive » Obama becomes second President to use Second Life as a dissemination tool
Jul 14, 2009 11:49

[...] no, I’m not suggesting that Obama copies another idea from Portugal Just that each presidential staff has their own style of being in Second Life, and it’s [...]

Paulo Gingao
Jul 20, 2009 12:36

A tip for Obama before he takes this advice:

Prepare you teachers before put Laptopts in the classrooms, otherwise they will be your next problem and the unmotivated ones, not the kids!

Selma Vedor Fernandes
Jul 21, 2009 9:06

This Portuguese initiative is remarkable and an example that other countries should consider. But, these technological-based initiatives should be encompassed by other changes, like cultural and professional values, attitudes toward learning and teaching. If not, the school system will integrate these initiatives in the old status-quo and a lot of the potential to reform will be lost.

Rui Ferreira
Jul 24, 2009 13:10

A clear case is made in favor of the concept of Edutainment. It’s a much needed article on the global awareness needed to teach our next generation. It flags internationally Portugal’s prime minister José Socrates brave crusade against the separatists of old ways and derogatory thinking patterns.

The article’s author is right in acknowledging all the good work that has been made since Socrates took the helm of the Portuguese Caravel into the new undiscovered country of Education. The model of action was spot on, Portugal’s lead in the technological shock culture was needed to shake away the old and make room for the new, and as the article demonstrates by merging the necessity of Education with the natural appeal of discovery that children of all ages display.

Edutainment is a merging of truths. Its true that schools today are a boring example of life and its also true you need to know how to read Encyclopedia Britannica. These are both poles of truth, but one of them is the correct measure of health on a human being and the other is a symptom of something wrong in the way we do things. Peter Pan’s motto of “We never want to grow up” is perhaps right, maybe that reaction is a defense mechanism against the formating society will undoubtedly impose upon them and make them turn into mindless “I told you so”, negative and criticism, yada yada posters and twitter users alike.

Education must change. The existing model is failing in all fronts and must be refactored into the 21st century in order to promote a new sociological framework for all of us to life freely. Education is not a self contained vessel of dusty knowledge made by old beard man inside a room ready to be passed into the next generations. This reductionary vision is what lead to misguided activities within society that try to mine the efforts of governance. Socrates is under attack by those beard man and woman who are trapped in the never-ending cycles of self defeat. In fact, the very presence of these types of cultural currents in the present is a clear proof of the need to change the path of Education for the future to work, because the current examples of persons that mold our society today are forged out of the old system… and are not quite what they were supposed to be.

Its almost as we don’t know how to educate anymore, perhaps we never did. In many ways its astounding that we could create a country in these conditions, but we did. Portugal will always find a way to break away and move into the next step to the right way. Its our way.

As for the U.S., George Lucas’s Education Foundation Edutopia is one working example today of such efforts already underway, and it has some years behind it already, its a remarkable little experiment that is soon to expand into mainstream America. Its not they don’t have examples too. Its that their own governance also mired evolution. This is a chicken and the egg problem gone wrong, the crazy chicken that lays the crazy eggs but someday wakes up and decides to go sane.

Back to Portugal. We must shop the shame, we must stop the Fado of old. Today we can be a flag of truth to the world. We can sail away again into America and show them that the old country still has some tricks left.

We are back at seas.

Jul 24, 2009 18:22

Computers are a powerful and motivational learning tool. That’s undeniable. I love using them in my classes. But do you prefer a computer or a warm classroom during winter? It’s difficult to use a computer wearing gloves and even more difficult if you didn’t eat anything because both your parents are unemployed. But these are just details, right?
Computers alone can’t teach. You need teachers and the Prime Ministers just don’t realize that. He hates teachers (trauma perhaps?) and the “technological shock” is propaganda! Computers are for the “others” to see, because they only know part of the story. He destroyed public schools. Kids don’t learn. They spend time at school. He has a whole professional class against his educational policies. Are all they wrong??

Das richtige Maß der Meinungsfreiheit — CARTA
Aug 3, 2009 5:28

[...] sowohl der Schüler als auch der Lehrer, gesteigert werden kann. Oder müssen wir uns von Portugal vormachen lassen wie so etwas [...]

Alexandra Soares
Aug 13, 2009 7:46

I’m a Portuguese teacher. I was able to visit a German school late last year. It was both a humbling and enlightening experience.

I didn’t see any laptops, interactive whiteboards or Internet broadband access in the classrooms; I guess the most advanced piece of technology I saw in the classes I observed (not many, unfortunately…) was a good old CD-player. I saw a lot of chalk on blackboards and pictures taken from magazines pinned onto the blackboards. I also saw handwritten transparencies (what a shock!!).

When I was there it was late autumn. It was freezing cold outside (at least for my Portuguese standards). But inside the temperature was always nice and warm, so that everybody could relax and focus on learning on not on trying to keep warm, which is the problem in most schools in Portugal, even the ones with a heating system like the school where I worked for the last three years. Yes, there was a heating system. Yes, we all froze during lessons in winter. Yes, Portugal is not even a very cold country. But the limited budget the school struggled with forced the heating to be kept at a minimum…

And then, going back to my German experience, I saw highly motivated teachers and very interested pupils, who knew how to behave and were really interested in what was going on. I saw 12-year-old pupils who were studying at a level (the English language, which is what I teach) that our pupils only reach by the time they are 16 (and often with difficulty).

There was this one 7th grade class that was supposed to be a “bad” one, and they were still way above most 9th grade classes in Portugal in so many aspects. I saw the teacher struggling because he needed to ask the pupils to be quiet (and they immediately were). A recent study has estimated that the average Portuguese teacher spends 15 minutes of a 45 minute lesson keeping discipline…

So, are you still sure President Obama should be looking at Portugal? Do you know what has happened to many of those cheap laptops? They have been pawned or sold, because people need money for necessaries, like food, you know; or they are lying around useless because kids tend to misuse things, and when they get broken, the warranty does not cover misuse, and guess what, many parents have no money to have them fixed.

Although technology helps a lot, and it is a good thing, and as a teacher I not only recognize it but I try to have my pupils use the Internet to find things on their own and such, I don’t think this is the way to go when so many basics have been left unattended for such a long time… Don’t look to Portugal for a sollution. Look at what northern European countries have done long, long ago. Look at their cultures of work, effort and learning. Believe me, there’s a lot more to it than to laptops, interactive whiteboards or broadband Internet access… My school has just been equipped with all that, how amazing, but next winter, the heating system will remain the same, as I’m sure the limited budget will too.

Sep 1, 2009 15:41

[...] e académicos. O próprio Barack Obama já lá publicou textos seus. O blogue Wikinomics, o qual reúne uma série de especialistas em matérias como economia e novas [...]

Sara Martins, Portugal
Sep 7, 2009 18:38

I agree with miss Alexandra Soares! We are not an example for anybody, believe me! I attend a University, MSc in Physics, and I see that the younger students that arrive each year are not able to do a simple math problem without the help of a computer! “Thinking” has become an obsolete word when you have a bunch of electronic circuits to do it for you – this is the message our Prime Minister is sending… And it’s terrible!!! Also, the “world connection” is not a way to learn that much, you would be surprised with the English (or any other languages, for that matter) most of these “technological advanced people” dominate: it’s terrible, below the minimal requisites to attend a graduation course! I agree with the computer innovation – I don’t agree with the dependence we are creating in our younger generations.

Oct 13, 2009 13:09

I am 46 years old, and have had a english education in a foreign country. There are things (like mentality) that make the diference. What I feel is that portuguese people still have there parents who have this mentality and the young generation have dificulty in finding solid support to go on with new ideas without lossing especial values to human kind

Jan 7, 2010 0:15

@polak I dont think you understood this correctly…

Obama should look to Portugal on how to fix schools « Portugal Positivo
Mar 30, 2010 18:44

[...] Don Tapscott, (June 24, [...]

Diseño Web
Oct 23, 2010 10:40

The biggest, and not mentioned, is the project for the rehabilitation of a large number of portuguese schools by the best portuguese architects.

Cesar Millan el encantador de perros
Oct 25, 2010 23:55

The biggest, and not mentioned, is the project for the rehabilitation of a large number of portuguese schools by the best portuguese architects.

traductor jurado ingles
Nov 6, 2010 10:43

Yes, Portugal is not even a very cold country. But the limited budget the school struggled with forced the heating to be kept at a minimum…
Prepare you teachers before put Laptopts in the classrooms, otherwise they will be your next problem and the unmotivated ones, not the kids!

Now available in paperback!
Don Tapscott and Anthony D. William's latest collaboration, Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet. Learn more.

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