Ceibal en inglés for primary education is a programme that revolutionised the Uruguayan educational landscape. The Uruguayan 2008 Curriculum for Primary Education made English teaching a mandatory subject (CEP, 2009).

However, the shortage of qualified English teachers meant it was not possible to fulfil this mandate. This large-scale remote teaching programme was designed as an innovative solution to this problem (Banegas, 2013). As a result, hundreds of schools were able to start offering English learning opportunities. In combination with the face-to-face programme Segundas Lenguas, it allowed for universalisation of English teaching in almost all urban state-run schools in Uruguay, a milestone for democratisation of access.

By 2017, almost 75.000 students distributed in 536 schools all over the country were being taught English through this programme (Kaplan and Brovetto, 2018, Brovetto and Marconi, 2018). The British Council has been a partner in this initiative since its pilot phase in 2012.

While distance learning and remote teaching have been increasing in popularity for a while now and even more so following the COVID pandemic, ten years ago this endeavour was groundbreaking.

This blog post describes the characteristics of the design of the programme, the teacher roles within it, remote teaching skills involved, its impact, other related projects, and the challenges and opportunities for the future.

The design

Ceibal en inglés primary is designed for students and teachers in state-run Uruguayan schools in years 4th through 6th (ages 9 to 12 approximately). It seeks to help students reach an A2 level of English by the time they leave primary education (Brovetto and Marconi, 2018). It is based on a combination of remote teaching, blended learning, team teaching, with features of both distance learning and face-to-face teaching  (Kaplan and Brovetto, 2018, Banegas and Brovetto, 2020).

Once a week, a teacher located in a remote location (remote teacher, henceforth RT) connects through a very reliable, high-quality videoconference equipment to a school in which students are together in a classroom with their classroom teacher (CT), ready to take their 45-minute lesson. It must be noted that the high-quality of the image helps develop an affective bond between teacher and students, as it facilitates getting to know students individually (Stanley, 2015). Throughout the project’s history, lessons have been taught from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, the Philippines, the UK and Uruguay.

Twice a week, after the remote lesson, the CT leads practice and consolidation instances using material specifically designed for the project. This way, students engage in English practice three times a week. During this time, students can access interactive material and share their work with their RT, who can provide asynchronous individualised feedback in turn. All of this can be done using a Learning Management System, a fundamental component of the programme. This design requires effective team teaching, CT and RT are jointly responsible for students’ English learning. 

The opportunity for intercultural engagement combined with engaging material are ingredients that make the project motivating and meaningful for students and teachers (Stanley, 2015, Kaplan, 2019).

The teachers and other relevant actors

The CT’s role in the programme is unique: they are the ones who create the conditions for English learning to take place, while most of them are not speakers of the language themselves. This is one of the biggest challenges they face, as it involves leaving their comfort zones as content experts to assume a role of facilitator, learner model, knowledge co-constructor (Kaplan, 2019). The remote lesson’s success greatly depends on their ability to manage the class, negotiate interculturality and provide the RT with clues and support.

The RT, on the other hand, faces challenges of their own, one of the biggest ones being the need to establish a telepresence that reduces the affective distance that can occur in videoconference-mediated lessons (Pintos, 2019). In Stanley’s (2015) words, they need to avoid being ‘talking heads’ to allow for the human connection between RT and students to flourish. Developing a trust relationship with the CT that facilitates team teaching is another crucial challenge to overcome. 

A number of other actors are present to provide support so this complex ecosystem for language learning can thrive: mentors, quality managers, language academies coordinators, material designers, academic and management teams, head teachers and policy makers.

Check out this very enriching panel that took place at IATEFL 2018 about Ceibal en Inglés primary to gain insights from the perspective of key actors in the programme.

What makes a good Remote Teacher?

As Pintos (2018) has analysed, some of the essential skills involved in being an effective remote teacher are:

  • Telepresence

    This involves a number of strategies that allow for a feel of physical presence to compensate for the distance and develop rapport with students. Certain good practices in the traditional classroom like eye-contact, proximity, some forms of signalling, are not possible through videoconference, so teachers need to implement other strategies to manage the class. Examples of these are exaggerated gestures and body language in general, voice control, zooming in and out on individual students, among other techniques to keep learners engaged. Active participation and interaction is essential. 

  • Teamwork

    RTs need to be able to build a relationship of trust with the CT so effective collaboration can happen. As the CT generally does not speak English, RTs should have enough Spanish ability to be able to coordinate.

  • Classroom management at a distance

    While the CT plays a big part regarding classroom management during the remote lesson, the RT also contributes to it through a number of strategies such as praising, keeping students engaged, supporting instructions with body language, grading their language, adapting the lesson plans to the needs of each group. 

  • Learning Technologies skills 

    So far, technology has been mentioned briefly, which makes sense, as being a good RT is mostly following good ELT practices. But technology does play a part. RTs should be skillful managers of the VC equipment, controlling screen sharing, zooming in and out to focus on individual students, playing with volume and image to engage students. They also need to be proficient users of the Learning Management System and interactive material that is centrally provided. 

  • Troubleshooting ability

    Remote teaching implies being flexible and ready to troubleshoot when unexpected problems occur. It involves anticipating tech and other types of problems, as well as possible ways around it. Teachers need to plan for alternatives and know who to reach out for help in case anything goes wrong.

Watch this video for more detailed discussion on RT skills. 

English teachers involved in the programme are provided with CPD opportunities through observations and ongoing training, not to mention team teaching is a CPD opportunity in itself. To learn more about the CPD programme, listen to Graham Stanley talking about it in this other video.

Ceibal en Inglés's impact

From its initial stages, the project has been closely monitored to evaluate its impact. Since 2014, a yearly adaptive test has been implemented to measure student progress. Students in the face-to-face programme Segundas Lenguas also take this test. Results indicate that not only do children in Ceibal en Inglés make progress in their language learning, but also that there is no considerable distinction in language achievement with the students who study with face-to-face teachers through the Segundas Lenguas programme. Furthermore, students from all socio economic contexts exhibit evidence of progress (Brovetto and Marconi, 2018). 

These positive results make Ceibal en Inglés a success story that has paved the way for offering English learning opportunities to all students in primary education. In this sense, following Enever’s (2019) discussion, it has been an effective policy towards equality, though equity is an ongoing challenge.

Moreover, it can be argued that the changing practices and mindset that have resulted from the implementation of the programme has revolutionised school culture. As Kaplan and Brovetto (2018) state, “At first sight, the use of videoconferencing might appear to simply address problems such as lack of teachers of English in Uruguay. However, it also fosters the creation of a new type of learning environment, opening up the classroom walls to a world outside of school.” 

Consequently, the project is now a permanent policy that is conceived as a unique opportunity in itself.

Beyond Primary Education

Ceibal en inglés is actually an umbrella term for a number of projects Plan Ceibal implements with options for secondary and vocational schools. These were developed following the success of the primary project, adapting some features of it to respond to the specific needs and challenges of each target audience. If you are interested in learning about any of these, follow this link

The future

Not only has Ceibal en Inglés grown in numbers of students it reaches and programmes it implements, but a constant pursuit of improvement has meant that teacher development strategies, revision of material and design are ongoing. However, it is not without its challenges. As Banegas and Brovetto (2020) point out, the design of the programme requires a sustained investment in support and maintenance. Also, the programme relies on foreign teacher availability. As this type of programme becomes more commonplace, it could represent a difficulty in the future since RTs might become scarce. Promoting teacher agency so CTs and RTs are not seen as programme implementers but as empowered actors who lead the programme is another challenge that could be tackled in the future. 

It is without a doubt exciting to keep an eye out for Ceibal en Inglés’s next venture.

Keep reading

10 years of experience of this innovative enterprise that has proven an invaluable research opportunity, means that a lot of academic production has taken place, lessons learnt throughout its history have been systematised and are easily accessible, so check out below a selection of available resources on the subject.


Banegas, D., 2013. ELT through videoconferencing in primary schools in Uruguay: first steps. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 7:2, pp. 179-188.

Banegas, D. and Brovetto, C., 2020. Ceibal en Inglés: ELT through Videoconferencing in Uruguay. MEXTESOL Journal 44(1). Available from:  https://www.mextesol.net/journal/index.php?page=journal&id_article=17772 

Brovetto, C. and Kaplan, G, 2018. Ceibal en Inglés: innovation, teamwork and technology. In: G. Stanley, ed. Innovations in Education. Remote Teaching. Montevideo: British Council and Plan Ceibal pp. 13-26. 

Brovetto, C. and Marconi, C, 2018. How evaluation and assessment are intrinsic to Ceibal en Inglés. In: G. Stanley, ed. Innovations in Education. Remote Teaching. Montevideo: British Council and Plan Ceibal pp. 135-148. 

CEP. 2009. Programa de Educación Inicial y Primaria. Administración Nacional de Educación Pública. Montevideo: ANEP-CEP

Enever, J., 2020. Looking beyond the local. Equity as a global concern in Early Language Learning. AILA Review, 32, pp. 10–35. Available from https://ingles.ceibal.edu.uy/storage/app/uploads/public/600/ae5/dee/600ae5dee9b29226120268.pdf 

Kaplan, G., ed., 2019. Ceibal en inglés: la voz docente. Montevideo: Plan Ceibal. 

Pintos, V., 2018. What skills do Ceibal en Inglés remote teachers need? In: G. Stanley, ed. Innovations in Education. Remote Teaching. Montevideo: British Council and Plan Ceibal pp. 39-48

Stanley, G., 2015. Plan Ceibal English: Remote teaching of primary school children in Uruguay through videoconferencing. In C. N, Giannikas, L., McLaughlin, G. Fanning & N. Deutsch Muller, eds., 2015 Children Learning English: from research to practice.  Reading, UK: Garnet Publishing Ltd