Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 9th 2014 Contents A31
Tuesday, September 9, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
Last week, the Ministry of Education
scampered to respond to a claim by parent
Julien Dedier that his daughter s Govern-
ment-issued laptop had been infected with
The issue prompted Education Minister,
Dr Tim Gopeesingh to dive into a spiral of
counter claims, claiming "strong admin-
istrative policies governing the laptops."
"We have firewalling, we have anti-theft
and anti-virus devices," the Minister said,
noting that unauthorised installation of
software to the State s property was under-
Information security expert Shiva Bisses-
sar of Pinaka Technologies had questions
of his own on the matter. He wondered
what Dedier had found and what tools he
used in the discovery process.
"If there was a report from a reputable
firm describing a methodology for scanning
several freshly delivered laptops direct from
the manufacturer or the ministry, which
then revealed malware, this would be a
source of concern," he
warned against taking
the Ministry s assur-
ances at face value.
To discover more
about the real world
experience of school
laptop use, I turned to a tech-savvy user with a child
who has used one for the last few years.
That user, who asked for anonymity and identity
obfuscation because of the prestige school her child
attends, answered questions about her experience
with the system.
The computer, a Lenovo e425, was one of the 75,000
laptops issued by the Government to students entering
secondary school over the last four years at a cost so
far of more than a quarter of a billion dollars.
"It s a basic Wintel laptop, with a low-end processor,
2GB ram and a 300+GB hard disk. Nothing that you
would buy for yourself, but adequate," she explained.
She s had to do maintenance on the computer over
the years. The school has one part-time technician
who oversees 600 Government-issued computers, a
number that will jump to 750 in October.
Her child s machine is one of the few from her
cohort that still works.
"If there is a problem, I assume you can take it to
him but there is nothing preventive."
"I do maintenance from time to time so the machine
is in good shape. However, I had to (ahem) subvert
certain security controls, in order to do it."
"Most parents could not do this, and the other
laptops I have seen, those that can still boot, are in
One major failing of the laptop programme appears
to be a lack of continuity in the anti-virus software
precaution. Most AV software is offered on a sub-
scription model and expires after a year.
"The GoRTT (contract) explicitly states that main-
tenance is the parents responsibility after the first
year. What I think happens is that many parents
prefer to spend the money on a new laptop of their
own, and the eCAL laptop is left to rot once it develops
Over the years, my source has no sense that teachers
have been incorporating IT in the classroom.
"A one or two-week programme is not sufficient
to change your teaching practice if you have taught
in a particular way for many years," she notes.
She has seen a master s thesis on the eCal pro-
gramme that has found teachers struggling with the
project and many, for the most part have given up,
some even before getting started.
The issue raised by Julien Dedier sparks larger ques-
tions about the laptop distribution programme which
appear to run counter to Government supplied infor-
How exactly are parents supposed to perform main-
tenance on a system that they cannot access as it is
given to them? Why claim anti-virus protection when
it expires after a year with no simple option to renew?
Has the government reviewed the technician to com-
puter deployment ratios in schools? How many gov-
ernment-supplied laptops are still functioning and
in use from that first deployment? Is the honest
opinion of teachers tasked to work with these systems
being sought in order to improve the pedagogy?
I have only one source to rely on for my information
and while that report isn t as sensational as the one
that made news last week, I suspect it merits even
greater attention from the Education Ministry.
There has been a lot of positive interest and hope
for the widespread introduction of computers to
schools in T&T, but these are questions that have
been muttered in school hallways and in tech circles
from the start. It s time that they were answered.
• Read an expanded version of this column online
Is the future of education in our children's
laptops? PHOTO: BIGSTOCK
Another laptop story
Links Archive September 8th 2014 September 10th 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page