By Sharmain Grainger
While an education is important, it should go hand in hand with morality. At least this is the conviction of a group of software developers who have been developing an application [app] that can enable just such an undertaking.
The app, which was first developed and introduced in Canada by Bolivian-born Jay Pizarro, has been evolving by leaps and bounds over the years.
Although the cost of the app is but a few dollars, its potential impact in the lives of young children, and even those who are older, has the potential to be insurmountable.
It was for this reason that Director of the School of the Nations, Dr. Brian O’Toole, not only endorsed the app, but has put measures in place to ensure that Guyanese, too, can get a chance at utilising it.
During a recent interview with this publication, Dr. O’Toole said that while a verbal explanation did not bring much clarity to the capabilities of the app, it was only after a simple demonstration that he was sold on the idea of it becoming a big hit not only here in Guyana, but even on a wider international scale. Dr. O’Toole is convinced that the app is poised to be recognised as the next big technological invention.
“I was amazed…and I recognised immediately that Guyana has not got anything like this. This app does not cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars, it’s like seven packages and each one is like about US$10,” said Dr’ O’Toole, as he expressed amazement that “it literally comes alive before your very eyes.”
He anticipates that once people have an understanding of the app, a large cross-section of the population will be clamouring for it.
“When I showed it to my seven-year-old grandson he loved it,” said Dr. O’Toole. He has moreover availed his school as the centre from which the app will be promoted and possibly marketed locally.
The app is promoted through JAYGOR Inc, a Canadian-based company which has been utilising the latest technology in artificial intelligence, data science and augmented reality.
Although it was Pizarro who created the app, during the past few years he was able to partner with Canadian-born Gordon Naylor, a social entrepreneur, who has helped considerably with the evolutionary process.
Naylor who resided in Guyana for some seven years and offered his social services skills at the New Opportunity Corps prior to returning to Canada, is also the Principal and Founder of the Nancy Campbell Academy located in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. The privately-operated Baha’i Academy offers grade seven through 12 classes. It was established some 20 years ago and operates under the twin pillars of academia and a clear moral framework.
Students are moreover exposed to what is described as ‘a superior education’, in an environment that it not only safe, but supportive.
“We believe every student has the right to be one of tomorrow’s leaders,” is a guiding motto of the school.
So it came as no surprise that Naylor, who has more than 40 years of experience in using business strategy to enable positive social change, with a focus on empowering children and youths around the world, would have easily gravitated to Pizzaro’s app.
Pizzaro and Naylor quickly forged a thriving partnership which even saw the former becoming a part of the 400-strong team at the Academy where he has even been teaching a few classes.
“It is very diverse; the idea is that you have all of these people [youths] and you train them in moral and academic leadership and they can actually create change when they return to their communities….I had never seen a school like this before,” confided Pizzaro during an interview.
But of course the app was the key focus of their newly-forged alliance. In so doing, Pizzaro said that Naylor offered all his expertise, which saw moves being made to really incorporate morality into education.
A crucial contributor to the evolution of the app, too, has been Dr. Victoria Talwar. Dr. Talwar is the Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor at McGill University. She is credited with bringing to the app, an amazing amount of expertise to help strengthen the effectiveness of educational and developmental best practices founded in world-leading research. Her key areas of focus have been social cognitive learning, moral development and pro-social behaviour in children.
Since the app utilises artificial intelligence, Pizzaro explained that the user can actually interact with it. “You can talk to it and it understands you [much like Siri on the iPhone and Google Assistant on Samsung devices]. It is kind of like a virtual friend that you can use by looking through the camera on your device,” said Pizzaro.
During a demonstration on Friday in the New Market, Street Georgetown office of Dr. O’Toole, a virtual 3-D character appeared in the room, seemingly projected from the camera of a cell phone device. The character was not only able to move and respond to questions, but also offered advice that was not only educational, but uplifting at the same time.
According to Pizzaro, the intended approach is to educate through inspiration and fun.
“We want kids to see virtues as the powerful superpowers they really are.”
Moreover, the app titled ‘The Virtuals’, takes on the form of a gaming app, with a focus on “helping children be mindful of positive qualities to help them grow through real life challenges and opportunities to help others. We turned to virtue and character strengths; those universal qualities valued across all cultures and fundamental to human growth, peace and prosperity.”
According to Dr. O’Toole, his expectation is to first have a meeting with parents of students attending his school to enlighten them about ‘The Virtuals’ which could see them gaining a better understanding of it before exposing it to their children.
“I think the market here will be huge for it. It is not a toy; it is more than a toy…the level of thought that’s gone into it on a spiritual level is fantastic, and that is why I have been really keen to get the word out,” said Dr. O’Toole of the app.
But there is even more. According to Pizzaro, since one of the key focuses of JAYGOR has been to rely on emerging artificial intelligence, moves have already been made to develop an Assistant which also utilises artificial intelligence. But this latest development, he noted, is more designed for the corporate world.
“You can talk to the assistant, the assistant can talk back to you and remind you of things…it can even confirm meetings for you, but it doesn’t necessarily need a phone…because it is artificial intelligence it can even call you or text you to give you reminders,” Pizzaro related.
Already the team has developed and tested prototypes of its product line and is ready to take the creations to the next level through the final stages of testing and development.
And since it is gaining backing from School of the Nations, JAYGOR is prepared to share its first releases with the local school which it intends to invite to join a collaborative process. This is in light of the fact that the developers are convinced that Dr. O’Toole with his 40 years of experience in education and development could lend exponentially to the advancement of the product line.
Dr. O’Toole has worked as a consultant for a range of international agencies, including the International Labour Organisation, United Nations Children Fund, the United Nations Development Fund and the World Health Organisation, in more than 42 countries.
The first in a series of workshops to enlighten the local public about the work of JAYGOR will be held from tomorrow at School of the Nations and, according to Pizzaro, it is expected that those desirous of utilising the products will be given a chance to do so.y.
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