Saint Lucia’s Primary Schools go high tech!

Saint Lucia's primary  schools go high tech!

From left: LIME representative Dainea Augier, Taiwan Ambassador Tom Chou, PM Stephenson King, Education Minister Arsene James and Michael Walker.

It has been several years in the making, but once adopted here and all relevant parties play their role, a new computer system for schools will position Saint Lucia ahead of their Caribbean counterparts and in league with the more developed countries.  Michael Walker, who along with his team developed the program, described it as a “very, very powerful system that enhances the Ministry of Education capacity to actually run the education system in the country.” Walker spoke those words during the launching ceremony of the final phase of the computer education program dubbed the “In Time Project,” which took place last Thursday at the Orchid Greenhouse, Union. It is the philanthropist’s hope that the system when properly implemented would help abolish once and for all the common entrance exam. Walker like many other educators here believes that the exam puts too much pressure on Primary school students for just one day.

Ambassador of Taiwan Tom Chou whose country is co-sponsoring the project, gave an overview.

“A small nation wishing to compete with larger countries stands a better chance of prevailing if it has high quality human resources. Education is the key to upgrading the quality of human resources. By taking advantage of modern technology such as computers we can achieve our goals faster,” the Ambassador stated. “We set up a computerized system to strengthen the ability of teachers and the motivation of students in their studies,” he added.

“This is a fantastic project,” Michael Walker boasts saying that over EC$10 million has been spent for the project so far. “The Government of Taiwan has been absolutely supportive and so is my family. I think we’ve put in somewhere in the region of six million dollars ourselves and it is our way of saying thank you to Saint Lucia for providing us with a home that has really become our home over the last twenty years,” Walker added. He then pointed out that he first came to Saint Lucia in 1971 after having spent years in different parts of the world as an educator and as such should not be considered a “Johnny come lately who is trying to change things.”

In the last few years Walker and his team have been hosting workshops (137 of them) which saw participation from about 800 teachers. “Logistically it has been an exceptionally successful project. Every Friday, every Wednesday throughout, we met at the ECG Centre, training and meeting teachers,” Michael Walker informed his audience Thursday. He then proceeded with a visual presentation using a computer and projector to explain how the program would work which is accessible online at www.intimeeducation.com

According to Michael Walker the “In-time” project should make children responsible for their own learning and the students work can be assessed on a continuous basis through the program.

“Each child is given a unique registration number so that every time the child goes online the computer remembers. So that when we start talking abut evaluation and effort and diligence, the computer can give us an absolute print out of everything they have done all year long. So it is not just a matter of working hard for one exam the computer registers day by day how much effort every child puts in,” Walker explained. “My hope of course is that the common entrance exam will finally be thrown out of the window and we will judge the children on their total performance and not just on one single day,” he then said to emphatic applause from the room made up mainly of primary school students, teachers and principals.  Through the online program which will see LIME providing the internet connection to schools free of charge, Primary school students and teachers will have access to documents, books, exercises and videos which would customize learning and make it fun. Through Google’s Cloud technology the program will not be reliant on servers and will also eliminate the need for purchasing expensive books. Schools will also no longer have to absorb the cost of printing material and exercises, since lessons can be done on the computer or copied into a book.

“When our children are up and running and doing this, they will be able to communicate with children in Debarras, Laborie, Saint Vincent, Sweden, children all over the world doing the same things. I mean this is a mind boggling leap forward. It is not a step forward. It really is the most advanced step in education anywhere in the world,” Walker said emphatically.

The program will not only be beneficial to students but will also offer teachers tips and opportunities to make changes and suggestions which can be adopted immediately. On the subject of curriculum reform Michael Walker noted, “Anybody who knows anything about children knows that children do not learn at the same speed. Some children are quicker, some children are slower.” He sighted the example of his own son who helped develop the program who at age five was described as a slow learner by his teachers in Sweden and in need of special attention. “We have to take into account that children learn at different speeds,” he stressed. He then explained that the students could go online and perform exercises according to their grade, but could also go one grade up if they are more advanced or one grade down if they were slower, since all books for all grades were available online as part of the program.

From the Ministry of Education standpoint the computerized program will store all pertinent information relevant to students in its data base. It will also serve as an effective tool in communicating with all teachers and principals on the island via e-mail and the dissemination of information.

Adjacent to the In Time computer program for Primary Schools will be the introduction of In Time Education TV here (IE TV) on LIME Channel 32. “IE TV will be the first 24/7, totally educational channel, anywhere in the Caribbean with brand new content everyday, Monday to Saturday with repeats on Sunday,” Walker explained.

In his remarks the Minister for Education, Arsene James expressed gratitude to Michael Walker for conceiving the idea, the Ambassador of Taiwan Tom Chou (for the provision of TVs and computers from Taiwan), LIME and the Ministry of Education. “As someone said there have been stumbling blocks, but we are hoping that finally the program will be launched in every school and that it will become the success that it should be,” James said.

“We at the Ministry of Education, we would like to see every child become literate in computer. In fact, we had a big dream and it was that every child should have a lap top. That was the dream at the Ministry, that every child should have a laptop but you know to fulfill such a dream it would mean that we would need the economic and financial back up and that we do not have. And so that is why we are so thankful for the efforts of the Embassy of Taiwan in providing computers,” said the Minister. However during his turn at the podium the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia indicated that a project was underway to equip every school child with a computer or laptop.

“I believe this initiative is one that is indeed timely. It presents to us the opportunity to recognize that ICT is no longer a luxury. Computer labs in our schools are no longer luxury and therefore it calls on the Government to rethink its strategy in education in keeping with global development and global trends and to respond in a positive way to the needs of our people as we begin to provide educational opportunity to our people,” PM King said Thursday. “Therefore this program gives us that opportunity to make necessary adjustment, adjustments in our education institution, adjustments in the curriculum, adjustments in the style that we apply to education,” King went on.

In support of this landmark “In Time Project” the Government of Taiwan has provided 1,200 computers and 78 flat screen televisions for the implementation of the program, which should be fully on stream by June 2011.

(In this weekend’s STAR the case for a lap-top for every child and the abolition of the common entrance exam).

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