Apr 02, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – Yesterday, the Ministry of Education launched the first “smart classroom” in Region Three, with the promise by Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, to continue to expand such facilities both across the primarily rural region and across the country in general. A release from the Ministry reads in part:
“Minister Manickchand said that teachers would be trained to use the facility. She said that there have been many initiatives to incorporate Information Technology (IT) into the classroom, but not many of those projects were taken seriously enough to put the education sector in a position to deliver education online when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
However, she commended those teachers who stepped up to the challenge during the pandemic and managed to teach their students virtually. She said that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the Ministry of Education to regroup and ensure that systems are put in place to have as many children as possible engaged during this time.”
Implicit in the Minister’s statement, of course, is a bit of self-criticism in that this is her second stint in her current portfolio and therefore any failure, from 2011 to 2015, to put the education sector in a position to seriously deliver online education, was hers. That said, the preponderance of responsibility for failure lies firmly on the shoulders of the Granger administration ministers, who happen to be both her successors and her predecessors, considering the global revolution in communication technology, in the growth and expansion of big data and their role in education delivery reached the point of critical maturation during the past five years.
In essence, when it comes to integrating information technology into the education sector at a time of peak opportunity, what took place in the Granger administration were much pomp and ceremony launches, but a fundamental failure to launch. It is because of the theatrics, when there was a recent spat between Minister Manickchand and former Ministers Nicolette Henry (Education) and Cathy Hughes (Communications), when challenged by Manickchand to produce evidence of working smart classrooms, as were claimed to have been launched under the Coalition’s tenure, none could be produced, with both former Ministers relying on news reports of launches of such facilities and not the assessment reports of those facilities in action.
Access to the internet and availability of the basic equipment necessary for this new pedagogy is going to be the defining factor in bridging the increasingly massive socioeconomic and other developmental gaps between urban and rural communities.
To be clear, the challenges of both integrating technology into an analogue classroom and bridging the digital divide are not easy ones to overcome, not even for wealthy countries, and the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the inadequacies of the technological, educational and economic infrastructure the world over.
For example, according to a report on US National Public Radio website:
“Across the country as American schools struggle with whether to reopen or stay virtual, many rural districts are worried their students will fall even further behind than their city peers. This pandemic has shown a glaring light on many inequalities. The federal government estimates that more than a third of rural America has little or no Internet. In numerous recent interviews, educators have told NPR they’re concerned the rural-urban divide will only worsen if kids can’t get online to learn.”
What this shows is that even in the economic powerhouse, that is the United States, currently in global competition with China to create cutting edge 5G technology, large swathes of the American rural heartland exist essentially in a different, older era.
It therefore isn’t enough that the idea of information communication technology is integrated into the education system as a reactive response to the challenges to education delivery brought on by COVID. Other complex considerations have to be weighed, not the least of which is the availability and affordability of the broadband internet necessary to give life to the smart classroom equipment.
One bright note coming out of yesterday’s launch, is Minister Manickchand’s statement that one use of the smart classroom technology would be the remote sharing of specialist skills between teachers attached to various schools. This indicates that, at least within the education sector leadership, we are moving beyond the visionless launches that sputter to nothing and only exist for the political theatre of progress and not progress itself.
That said, the conversation and the ensuing conceptual development has to be much wider as even America is discovering, with US President, Joe Biden, recently issuing a sweeping executive order geared largely towards improving and expanding the country’s ICT infrastructure in a more stable, more inclusive, more equitable manner. Unless ubiquitous, universal ICT is seen here in Guyana as fundamental to and inextricable from the overall national development process, we will continue down the path to what in the long term could very well be a fatal final failure to launch.
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