Education in a digital world
The managers of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) have echoed a view we posited a few weeks ago. We spoke about the available technology and of the need for the education system to adopt the technology.
No longer is the computer a sophisticated tool that one should approach with caution. No longer is it the expensive thing it used to be. In fact, some computers are fast disappearing. Guyana is being festooned with the desktop computer, courtesy of the people who rush to make donations to the various schools and institutions.
But the truth is that these, while still useful in Guyana, are obsolescent. They are, however, useful in the local school system, where many still have not accessed a computer, because they see it as a strange object used by the more sophisticated. However, these children have mobile phones that are more sophisticated than many computers and these children are adept at navigating the various programmes on the computer.
The ease with which they communicate with each other and with people all over the world, their access to information in the fashion and music industries, and their adeptness at downloading information, more than makes the computer a worthwhile tool in the school system.
One CXC official described the present situation of applying analog techniques in the classroom, where digital technology abounds. He is correct. There is no reason why teachers cannot disseminate the relevant information to the students via this technology.
In the more developed countries, the computer is an integral part of a child’s education arsenal. One does not see children lugging huge backpacks anymore. All the information is either on the computer or can be readily accessed online.
It may not be coincidental that the decline in academic performance throughout the region has happened at a time when the smart phone is making a tremendous impact on the lives of children. If the truth be told, the children resort to the phone to do their own business, to the exclusion of what is taught in school. That instrument has become the focal point in their lives.
A cursory examination of young people in the workplace would reveal that they tend to spend more time on the phone than on doing the job for which they are paid. In the newspaper, young people in sensitive areas such as news reporting and even sub-editing, do not really concentrate on the work at hand if their phones are close to them. Between writing a news story they are seen texting.
It is no different in the classroom. In some schools the phones are taken from the children during school hours and returned at the end of the session. If the planners of the CXC get their own way, and if the teachers are prepared to modify their efforts, the phone could be the best learning tool this century.
There are supporting tools. The more affluent in the society have iPads and iPods, but this does not rule out the capability of the smart phones. They are equally effective. But for some time now it was obvious that children resorted to phones and calculators to solve the most basic mathematics problem. The educators should have noticed this.
To this day, there are many in the system, and even in the work environment, who cannot say what ten per cent of something is. In Guyana, where the government is boasting of an abundance of technologically savvy people, one is left to wonder why these people have not been put to work to take the digital world into the classroom.
A programme is already in place for schoolchildren to be provided with a laptop. Former President Jagdeo made a lot of noise about the One Laptop Per Family programme. President Ramotar may wish to expand this programme to have netbooks produced for little or nothing. The assembly plant has already been promised to Guyana.
The world is sprinting away, and if Guyana is to really pursue development, it has to start to digitize the education system.