Computer program paves the way

Minister Lenard Montoute with EU representative Robert Baldwin.

Minister Lenard Montoute with EU representative Robert Baldwin.

Imagine cut flower producers seeking export markets for their products online, or farmers here sourcing the right fertilizer for their crops, or seeking answers to troubling questions using their laptops. Or how about local fishers determining the best location and season to fish using computer GPS systems or even to learn scientifically about how their actions may be impacting on the environment and thus their very livelihood. Well, while this is not happening here yet it is the inevitable future. For whilst we have long blamed the breakdown of protection barriers for the demise of our banana industry, realistic people will tell you that it was more our failure to keep up with modern technology and the automation of some of the processes which has left us in the cold. So now we are playing catch-up. But where do we begin? Many over the years have said that the answer is in education, education, education. But words without actions, means nothing. So now thanks to a gift of more than 4 million Euro from the European Union, if properly implemented Saint Lucia may well be on its way to becoming on the cutting edge of modern technology.

On Wednesday February 9, 2011, the Government of Saint Lucia through the Ministry of Education and Culture launched the Education Enhancement Through Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Program. The ICT Program is funded by the European Union under the Special Framework of Assistance (SFA) 2008.

The lavish event which was attended by Government and Ministry officials was held at the conference center of the Coconut Bay Beach Resort and Spa in Vieux Fort.
Chaired by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education Dr Rufina Frederick, Wednesday’s activity started off with the rendering of the National anthem by the school of music symphony orchestra followed by the invocation with Fr Ignatius Cetoute. Dr Frederick then delivered the opening remarks using parts of President Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union address to make the case for the growth of information technology here in Saint Lucia. According to Frederick the President cited China as an example where they took the opportunities provided by technology and “started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies and just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.”
The American response Frederick said as declared by their president was to now “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” Whilst she acknowledged that the ideal would also be to outdo the rest of the world, right now Saint Lucia simply wanted to keep up with the rest of the world. Hence the purpose of the launch of the ICT program.

Following her remarks the school orchestra then performed two numbers following which two different perspectives of information technology were presented. The first came from Kiran Harrigan a student of the Labayee Primary School who was received with a resounding applause. Richmond Felix who is the National ICT Office head touched
the nerves of many in the room when his remarks centered on the use of social media and its benefits or distractions and destructions.

An overview of the project was then presented by Arsene James Minister of Education and Culture. “We want every child to be equipped with using a computer,” James intoned whilst adding that computer usage here must spread to educators, teachers and the Ministry of education itself. The emphasis of this project he noted however was on the rural communities, with school and after school programs. He mentioned the dwindling in the number of farmers here from 12,000 to 2,000 and saw the potential in ICT for new financial opportunities to be found by displaced farmers.   “This program would give us the opportunity and access to ICT, to change the way in which they earn a livelihood and to improve learning and teaching in rural schools,” James said Wednesday. He called on the community at large to jealously guard the program.

The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance Isaac Anthony gave a more polished version of the Minister’s overview. He ended by saying; “this project has the potential to have a major catalytic impact on the development of ICT in Saint Lucia and ultimately the economic development of Saint Lucia.”

The implementation of the program has already started and is expected to run until the year 2014.

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