An idea for Growth: Replace school books with PCs

How about students being offered filtered wi-fi?

How about students being offered filtered wi-fi?

It is indisputable, and Sir Arthur Lewis did tell us a long time ago that the cure for poverty is education. However, that cure will remain elusive to the poor if they do not have effective access to it. How will get a pill for that poverty malady if they can’t afford the expensive books that are required? And when some of them do get help in acquiring of the required books they have to deal with the fact that them would have been assigned to the least prestigious schools where the quality of learning and teaching is lower than the other schools. A cynic would think of this as an indubitable conspiracy to ensure that they remain poor! We are therefore proposing the introduction of some simple to use and inexpensive existing technology that will have the effect of making education more accessible to the poor while at the same time saving parents over ECD$6.3M each year in the cost of Secondary school books and the government about ECD$.5M each year on budgetary allocation to education. Probably that saving can help cushion the fiscal impact of the public service wage increase. The ECD$6.3M savings by households can to toward increase economic activity within the domestic economy by purchasing goods and services available in the economy. Apart from the cited cost economy of our proposal, there is the added benefit of improving and modernizing the teaching methods at secondary schools. Haven’t you noticed? If you ride on a time machine and bring back a surgeon from 1901 and take him to an Operating Theatre today; he would be completely lost! However the same would not be true about his school teacher counterpart! That one would waltz into any classroom pick up a scheme and record Book and off to the Blackboard with a stick of chalk in hand and perform as well as a present day school teacher! We need to modernize the classroom to make learning more interesting, accessible and effective. The proposal that we are suggesting involves the replacement of hardcopy school books with PC tablets or other low-cost portable PCs; the hazardous chalk and chalk board with electronic Interactive Boards. There is really no need to buy school books, we can develop all the teaching content locally and upload them to a web portal/website from which teaching can take place via an interactive board and multi-media projector. The teachers would then push the required content to the students’ PCs along with the enormous amount free material available on the Internet or elsewhere, at no additional cost to the student. The Interactive Board would probably be the most important component of this proposal.

With that system, teachers will be able to write (with a special pen like device) and project teaching materials onto a white board for all to see which will also be recorded on the teacher’s laptop. Teachers would be given incentives to upload their daily recorded sessions to the central portal. Over time, the system would have built up a library of videos cover all topics of all subjects, something similar to what Will EduTech is doing on YouTube with CXC past papers.? That facility will bring a plethora of benefits to our education system. The leading benefit is the fact that it will place secondary school students at pretty much the same level with their counterparts at other secondary schools as it relates to access to instructions and content. That is because every student would have access to recorded teaching sessions from every classroom on the island and on every topic that was taught.

If for example Pythagoras Theorem was taught at George Charles Secondary School on a particular day and the student was not able to grasp the concept, he/she can later search the web portal for stored teaching sessions from other schools and review it at his/her own pace! This would be especially useful to the hundreds of slow learners at secondary schools who would be left behind under the current system! Those kids can keep the pace by reviewing classes on evenings and weekends from his or her favorite teacher on island.

Teachers will also find this system to be exceedingly friendly as there would no longer be the need to do the current form of Scheming and Recording. Teaching plans can be centralized and prepared for all schools for the various school days of each academic year which would only require teachers to follow. Moreover, the web portal mentioned earlier could be equipped with chat rooms where students can collaborate with each other and teachers, as well as teacher to teacher collaborations. As far as we can see only two things stand in the way of the possible implementation of that proposal. One, the willingness of the political directorate to implement the change; and secondly, the willingness of some school teachers to learn to use the technology which is nothing more than one’s ability to browse a website like Facebook. There are those who may give off the usual hot air and say that we are not ready for that. We really can’t find a place for that thinking when secondary school students are already sharing materials on the smart phones and even using the cameras on their phones to photocopy library material and secretly recording class sessions for their absentee friends! They are way ahead; it is the system that refuses to follow still promoting its dusty chalk boards and heavy and expensive books.

The issue of the country’s ability to pay for the system is sunk —besides it will provide savings over current commitments. If the present government is able to fund the promised $500 bursary for Secondary Schools entrants and laptops for fourth formers; then it is more than able to fund this proposal as initial calculation show that it would save the government $4.9M over five years on those promised initiatives. Under those two promised initiatives whose objectives and more are met in our proposal; the government would have committed to spending a minimum of ECD$21.3M over the next five years.

If our initiative is implemented in the next academic year it would cost the government about ECD$10M including an ECD$700 portable PC or Tablet free for each of approximately 11,500 secondary school students. There would have been a further requirement of ECD$1.6M for the remaining four years to pay for new portable PCs for the new entrants which would cost a total of ECD$16.4M for the five year period—a saving to almost ECD$4.9M over what the government has committed to spend over the same period.

As we have indicated before, parents would save a minimum of ECD$6.3M each of those five years in the purchase of books resulting in an overall saving of over ECD$7.1M to the country on an annual basis. And as the price of technology falls so will the cost of secondary education. The project could be further enhanced by offering students ‘filtered’ Wi-Fi across the island.

With the version of the project that is now being proposed; students will be provided with ‘filtered’ access to the internet on their school premises via Wi-Fi. Just giving students and teachers laptops and Tablets won’t justify the expenditure if that equipment is not brought into the classrooms to make learning easier, cheaper and more effective.

As an IT professional I have no doubt about the technical feasibility of this project. It is up to the government if it wants just go ahead and give students laptops and $500 or use that money to create a more efficient, efficient and equitable Secondary School Learning System.

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