A-M u s i n g s: Gift Horses

Boy-o-boy-o-boy! Gosh! A couple of articles ago, I announced I was going to blow my own trumpet. Now that was a mistake! Some have expressed horror at the fact that I mentioned that I willingly abstained from 280,000 dollars in royalties that would have been accrued had my books been sold rather than donated to schools in Saint Lucia in the mid nineties.

Well, sorry, but what have I got to be sorry about? If people find it objectionable that I, as a successful writer decide that I would like to “repay” the world for my good fortune (even though I have worked damned hard for it, harder than most people can imagine) by refraining from income so that others might benefit, well, then I am sorry – for them!

IETV, the Caribbean’s one and only 24/7 television station dedicated to education for all, is a unique, philanthropic institution devoted to the good of all, with no profit motive, simply a passion for learning. And finding companies that are willing to support this venture has not been easy, believe you me.

I recall John F. Kennedy’s speech at his inauguration in 1961, just short of a dozen years before I came to Saint Lucia; I was around eighteen at the time: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” And, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

Many of us that belonged to the generation of Baby Boomers after the Second World War were filled with vigor and energy, faith and commitment, and a belief in the innate good of Mankind. The “Flower Power” Generation that pledged to “Make Love, Not War.” Some “grew out of it,” many of us continue to believe, despite all the odds, even today.

Without support from community and commerce – let alone government – IETV, which carries no advertising, will die. IETV – InTime Education TV – is part of the InTime project. In addition to the basic school element of the project, my ambition was to bring heightened literacy and numeracy skills to every home in the country. In order to achieve this ambitious plan, the InTime project provided each primary school with a television, which made an educational TV channel a necessity. Giving away computers, televisions, inter-active whiteboards and other hardware wizardry is totally meaningless if you do not simultaneously provide content – something to work with.

I recall as a young teacher being thrilled when tape recorders in “language laboratories” were introduced into all schools in Sweden. I was even given the job by the Ministry of Education of travelling round all the schools in the south of Sweden, a vast district, to give workshops and advise on how to integrate that revolutionary technology into schools. I did the same with overhead projectors. Of course, looking back over the past 50 years, I can smile at the memory of how excited we were at the time. Never in our wildest imaginings could we have foreseen the deluge of technology that schools are now awash with.

My point is, of course, that I have been there, done that, and have learned from experience. The only way to introduce new technology successfully is to prepare the teachers first, not only in the technical aspects of the hardware, but also in the ‘human’, ‘emotional’ areas in which the teacher is no longer ‘best in class’ – after all, is there anywhere a pupil who is not ten times better at handling today’s technology that his or her teacher?In addition, you have to make sure there is content, useful content, content the kids can recognize as important. If this doesn’t happen, then all the computers in the world become ‘toys’, idle toys.

Significantly, you have to make sure the technology works, that adequate broadband width is provided, that Lucelec doesn’t fail us, that alternatives exist when the power does go down, that equipment can be serviced and maintained, etc. The list goes on.  You know what? None of this is happening in schools today. We are simply slinging computers at our kids without a thought to how they and their teachers will best use them.

You see, smiling faces handing over computers make great photo ops for politicians, but they should remember the words of Abraham Lincoln when they are about to squander the country’s money on gimmicks and toys: You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

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