It was a raucous and ready crowd gathered at the Vieux-Fort Comprehensive Secondary School on Wednesday morning, rife with anticipation of the distribution of new laptops to form four students. Ministers of government, school officials, parents, and students were all present at the ceremony to witness the materialization of a campaign promise made by the ruling Labour party.
District Education Officer, Peter Joseph started off the proceedings by acknowledging the magnitude of the moment.
“Today is indeed a special occasion for us at this school. It is a special occasion because it is an opportunity the students or form fours will be getting today to jump on the ICT train. It is like a dream come true. Having students to take home the laptops is addressing a major need because although most of our secondary schools have computer labs, they need to have access after school hours, so having them to go home with definitely addressed this need. And we are very optimistic that increasing access for students will impact in a positive way on their performance.”
Parliamentary representative for Laborie, Alva Baptiste, spoke briefly on the responsibility which goes hand in hand with the newly acquired equipment.
“I want to tell the students in particular that this laptop is not a gift. It is a tool to assist you in equipping yourself meaningfully to take your place beside others in our community to make a very important contribution to the development of your country. Education is the only tool that can meaningfully provide the necessary skills to make that contribution.”
Baptiste also put forth a challenge to his constituents.
“I want to say to my Laborian students in particular, that the student that tops CXC next year will receive one thousand dollars from the parliamentary representative for Laborie!”
Vieux-Fort North representative Moses Jn Baptiste noted the continuous progression of technology in the education system. By his calculations, we have come a long way from the days of rudimentary methods.
“I want to remind you children that at one time there was something called a slate and a pencil. You may not know this but your parents would know a slate and a pencil. That is what we used a very long time ago, decades ago to write on. Then we moved to exercise books. At every single stage in our development technology changed and we had to adapt. And so today the technology is based on information, the technology resides in the internet, and the technology resides in computers. That is why the government believes it is important for every single child, for every single home to have access to computers and to information technology.”
Also at the event was the Minister of Education, Human Resource, and Labour, Dr Robert Lewis, who reiterated his government’s commitment to education and the unassailable benefits.
“Giving a laptop to form fours is an investment. And that investment does not come lightly. The Minister for Finance, even when he looked at the economic condition of this country, he still looked at education and kept the funding for education at the same level that is was last year. And it speaks to the viewpoint that he has on education. And I heard the member for Laborie say that education is a social leveler, meaning it can provide social mobility for those who are at the bottom and to make us feel that we have the same power that everybody else has. And that’s the beauty of education. And the Prime Minister understands that position and that is why as Minister of Finance he continues to spend and continues to invest in education.”
Many were surprised that the Prime Minister was in attendance, given the loss of his mother just a day earlier, but as Dr Kenny Anthony explained, there was no where he would rather be than at his alma mater.
“There are two reasons why I wanted to be here with you. First, I wanted to be here as parliamentary representative for this constituency but most of all I wanted to be here to celebrate with you. I just wanted to be with my school. I heard the Minister of Education say that Vieux-Fort Comprehensive has a good fighting spirit. I think he is wrong. As far as I am aware Vieux-Fort Comprehensive has the best fighting spirit on this island,” he stated amid jubilant cheers.
Anthony also shared some of his administration’s recent accomplishments and hopes for the current and future scholars.
“In recent years we have achieved some important milestones in our education system. The first is that we have successfully introduced universal secondary education to guarantee every child in our country a place in a secondary school. We can now boast of this milestone not just in the region but in the wider world. Today we are crossing another milestone bringing technology to our school system. And it is for us a very significant development. I dream for the day when every child in our secondary schools, even in our primary schools, would be able to have a laptop and be able to reach out to this vast world of knowledge that exists. But this is important for another reason. We have a responsibility to prepare you and of course those who are going to come after you, prepare you for this new and different world. I suspect that in the next five years, maybe five possibly ten, children will no longer be required to take books to secondary schools. Parents will no longer have to dig deep to find money to purchase books come September.”
The Vieux-Fort South representative also reassured parents and admonished those who might misuse the laptops.
“Some of you I know are a little afraid that your children will be getting these gifts today. You worry that they’re going to go on those sites that they not supposed to go and look at but I want to comfort you. I want to remind you of a couple things. Some of those sites will not be accessible. They have no place in the school curriculum. The second thing is it’s an expensive tool and you as well as your children need to look after it. But to those who might be tempted to sell those computers; don’t try it. Because there is something in those laptops that will tell us exactly where it is. If a laptop is sold we will know where to find it.”
But it was his final pronouncement that really left the students and parents in a frenzy.
“The distinguished rep from Laborie heard that I have asked the school to award a prize in my name every year to the best student and today he comes here and announces that he is giving a thousand dollars. But as I said to you there is Prime Minister and there is Minister and the Prime Minister obviously has to stay way beyond the Minster after all he is prime. So next year your prize will be two thousand dollars!”
The distribution program began on Tuesday and will continue until every form four student has been awarded a laptop along with a carrying case.