Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 5th 2014 Contents JUNE 2014 • WEEK ONE www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG17
T&T has been at the centre of
some very significant devel-
opments in the regional edu-
cation sector recently. The
government has announced a
partnership with global tech-
nology giant, Samsung Electronics to be the
first market for its comprehensive suite of
"educational products and solution packages."
The government also announced the creation
of a "national knowledge network," dubbed
knowledge.tt, to promote free online learning
in partnership with international online edu-
cation powerhouses, Khan Academy and
These initiative are part of a broader national
strategy of investment in education and diver-
sification of energy-based economy. The inten-
tion is certainly laudable. However, the
approach and costs raise questions about the
sustainability of the initiatives and their utility
as a model for the wider Caribbean.
The Government boasts that over the past
four years, it has provided more than 75,000
laptop computers to secondary school students,
as well as approximately 4,000 to principals,
teachers, and school supervisors, "while oper-
ating and maintaining computer labs in all
secondary schools and over 300 primary
schools, all of which are technically supported
by appropriately trained ICT personnel."
The ministry had purchased 73,200 laptops
at a cost of more than US$38 million. Total
expenditure on the e-connect and learn pro-
gramme, to date, stands at US$39.8 million.
At present, the education sector is the ben-
eficiary of 8.0 per cent of T&T s annual expen-
diture and six per cent of GDP. It is being held
up as an international success story.
Leading by example
What T&T is doing is indeed commendable.
They have secured partnerships with the
respected brands in private sector; they invested
heavily in equipment and infrastructure, and
now they are expressing willingness to share
their experiences and best practices with neigh-
bours in the region and around the world.
The Ministry of Education recently co-host-
ed the second Virtual Educa Caribbean forum,
to consider opportunities for using information
and communications technology (ICT) to
impact education. The objective was to expose
and help prepare students for jobs and realities
of their digital future.
This digital future is real. The survival of
our region hinges on our ability to raise a gen-
eration capable of leading technology-enabled
Caribbean development. The knowledge-soci-
ety so often spoken of is an inevitability. The
question is: will the definition of that society
be determined by the region, or imposed by
those external to the region? This question,
and the search for an answer, should occupy
not only our policy makers, but our educators
and parents as well.
More questions than answers
The boasts on high-tech device handouts
and high-profile international partnerships
have certainly been quite loud. Unfortunately,
there has also been loud silence on what the
specific plan is for creating the local enabling
When millions are poured into Samsung s
first deployment of its Knox Enterprise Mobility
Management suite in T&T, will first-time
technology offerings from local vendors and
innovators be given such consideration to sup-
port the development of solutions that can
serve local needs and find global markets?
And what of the content to run on the
devices? Details are light on the role the local
publishing sector, nascent animation com-
munity, media production houses or mobile
app developers will be encouraged to play in
getting local content on the laptops, tablets
and smartphones proliferating in schools.
And what of the schools themselves? What
is the strategic plan for upgrading classrooms
and school compounds with the requisite
power, cabling, broadband Internet connec-
tivity, power protection and classroom con-
And what of technical and user support?
Will the national deployment of technology
products and services be supported by a local
cadre of customer service professionals, pro-
viding answers and solutions to teachers, stu-
dents and parents alike?
And how is this all to be measured, and by
Details need to be provided on the meas-
urement and assessment criteria to be used.
Ideally, an open approach to data collection
and data sharing should be employed. The
opportunity to inform development of tech-
nology-based educational reform programmes
are simply too great to leave to intuition or
Investing in local enablers
Content, infrastructure and local human
capacity are as key enablers of the digital age.
For the promise of the digitally connected
classroom to be fulfilled, focus, planning and
investment must go into developing local
capacity in these areas.
Deliberate, structured, well-led approaches
to integrating investments in education to
broader national development goals is critical.
The supporting, enabling environment must
be deliberately developed. There is a role for
the local private sector, civil society, the artisans,
the techies and the youth themselves to help
define a technology-in-education model most
appropriate to the society we want to build.
It will be tragic to squander this chance to
build the local ecosystem needed to support
our education aspirations.
The opportunity before us is to do much
more than fill classrooms with technology. It
is our collective responsibility to ensure that
we fill the minds of our students and our edu-
cators with a sense of their place in shaping
the possibilities of the future, today.
Bevil Wooding is an internet strategist
at Packet Clearing House, a US-based
research non-profit, and the executive direc-
tor of BrightPath Foundation, a technology
education non-profit organisation. Reach
him on Twitter @bevilwooding or on face-
book.com/bevilwooding or contact via e-
mail at technologymatters@brightpathfoun-
Caribbean classroom of the future
Where is the plan for fostering the local capacity to necessary for supporting education technology initiatives?
Courtesy: BrightPath Foundation
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