Re­port Says No Ev­i­dence Lap­top Pro­gramme Im­proved Stu­dent Per­for­mance

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - Keryn Nel­son

It's al­most im­pos­si­ble to dis­cuss mod­ern-day de­vel­op­ment with­out fac­tor­ing in tech­nol­ogy. In more ad­vanced coun­tries, no longer are classes made up of a few desks, chairs, shelves and a black­board. Mod­ern schools fea­ture stim­uli through var­i­ous forms of dig­i­ti­za­tion, all in an ef­fort to in­crease ef­fi­ciency and pro­duc­tiv­ity. Saint Lu­cia of­fi­cially em­barked on the quest of tech­nol­ogy in­te­gra­tion in ed­u­ca­tion a decade or so ago al­though the jour­ney has proved any­thing but easy.

A few ex­am­ples of our lo­cal In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Tech­nol­ogy (ICT)-based ini­tia­tives in­clude a lap­top pro­gramme, for­mal teacher train­ing in tech­nol­ogy in­te­gra­tion, in­creased ICT in­fra­struc­ture, an auto-skill pro­gramme, a pilot com­puter cod­ing and robotics pro­gramme and new tech­nol­ogy pol­icy de­vel­op­ment.

Al­though com­puter and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy in schools is not en­tirely new to Saint Lu­cia, much more ef­fort has been made over the years in spe­cific areas such as the fa­cil­i­tat­ing of com­puter lab­o­ra­to­ries in nearly ev­ery sec­ondary school on the is­land, as well as an ICT room in pri­mary schools. Teach­ing dig­i­tal lit­er­acy to stu­dents at a lower sec­ondary school level is also now a manda­tory part of the cur­ric­u­lam. In pri­mary schools teach­ers are en­cour­aged to use and teach ba­sic com­puter tools and skills dur­ing their Lan­guage, Arts, Math­e­mat­ics and Science classes.

For the lo­cal gov­ern­ment it isn't sim­ply about us­ing tax­payer dol­lars and grant monies to re­main up to speed with global changes. More de­tailed ob­jec­tives for these ini­tia­tives in­clude en­hance­ment of the learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment for stu­dents, in­creased ac­cess to com­put­ers and in­for­ma­tion, and rais­ing stu­dent achieve­ment through spe­cific in­ter­ven­tions. But how sig­nif­i­cant have been the strides to­ward those goals?

In 2013 over 3,300 lap­tops were pro­vided to stu­dents at the Form Four level, as well as to teach­ers. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to the 2017 “Sta­tus of ICT in Saint Lu­cia” re­port, “there were is­sues with soft­ware lim­i­ta­tions, in­ad­e­quate ed­u­ca­tional con­tent, per­ceived non-ed­u­ca­tional use of the lap­tops by stu­dents” and so on. “No ev­i­dence has been pre­sented to the ef­fect that stu­dent per­for­mance im­proved as a re­sult of the lap­top pro­gramme.”

As for the in­cor­po­ra­tion of tech­nol­ogy into school cur­ricu­lums, Saint Lu­cia's ICT Cur­ricu­lum Of­fi­cer, Ger­main An­thony says, “For the past three years we've hosted teacher tech­nol­ogy in­te­gra­tion train­ing, which in­volves high­light­ing to teach­ers how tech can sup­port how they teach. But of course there are some con­straints, such as the in­fra­struc­ture. Some labs are not ad­e­quately equipped."

Also: "To speak on suc­cesses and chal­lenges is dif­fi­cult. There are so many vari­ables. I al­ways say what most af­fects stu­dent per­for­mance is the qual­ity of teach­ing. So at the fore­front should be the teacher's ca­pac­ity to teach those con­cepts. That's where the teacher train­ing in tech­nol­ogy comes in. You can tell the teach­ers are al­ways very happy to take those cour­ses. Some of them were al­ready do­ing those things. They face chal­lenges, how­ever: poor or no in­ter­net in the class­rooms; band­width at schools is quite low.”

An­thony says a new ini­tia­tive, CARCIP (Caribbean Re­gional Com­mu­ni­ca­tion In­fra­struc­ture Pro­gram), if im­ple­mented can de­liver higher band­width to some schools and pos­si­bly pro­vide a so­lu­tion.

An­other con­cern: “In some schools the ap­proach is very much pro-ICT. The prin­ci­pals and teach­ers are try­ing dif­fer­ent things, like en­gag­ing the pri­vate sec­tor and par­ents in an ef­fort to raise funds so that stu­dents can have bet­ter ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy. Some of the teach­ers, de­spite dis­cour­age­ments, still man­age to do a lot with tech­nol­ogy. They take their own lap­tops, pro­jec­tors and other de­vices to their schools. On the other hand, the ap­proach in some schools is more tra­di­tional; the prin­ci­pals may not think tech­nol­ogy is im­per­a­tive.”

An­thony said that ideally all schools should have higher broad­band in­ter­net, cam­pus wifi where in­ter­net can be ac­cessed in class­rooms, in­ter­ac­tive white boards, one or two cam­corders, an ad­e­quate num­ber of pro­jec­tors and ac­cess to learner-man­age­ment sys­tems like moo­dles or Google class­rooms so that class con­tent can be made avail­able to stu­dents 24/7. But these things de­mand fairly large amounts of cash. “I think that if the min­istry had its way we would have had those things in schools years ago but Saint Lu­cia is a poor coun­try, a small is­land de­vel­op­ing state.”

ICT in Ed­u­ca­tion, though not al­lo­cated a set bud­get, is man­aged by the Min­istry of

The op­po­si­tion St. Lu­cia Labour Party is fast seal­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for say­ing one thing in gov­ern­ment, and the pre­cise op­po­site in op­po­si­tion. At a press brief­ing ear­lier this week, the MP for Castries South­east, Mr. Guy Joseph, read from a Cab­i­net con­clu­sion dated 16 Novem­ber 2015 that in­di­cated the day's gov­ern­ment had ap­proved con­ces­sions for the es­tab­lish­ment of a dol­phin park in Saint Lu­cia.

The MP hinted at the fact that the for­mer Cab­i­net min­is­ters were now busy cam­paign­ing against dol­phin parks. “They don't care if they sink Saint Lu­cia,” said Joseph. “They don't care how much they Ed­u­ca­tion. Says An­thony: “In an ideal sit­u­a­tion we would have a set amount of fund­ing to sup­port tech­nol­ogy in­te­gra­tion. Then I will be in a po­si­tion to con­sult with some tech teach­ers to see how much can be stretched, and then we would be able to in­cre­men­tally make some steady progress. But what we have right now is ba­si­cally stand-alone ini­tia­tives.”

Some past and cur­rent ICT projects have been made pos­si­ble via in­ter­na­tional grants.

As ear­lier stated, An­thony strongly be­lieves that to make strides in ICT ed­u­ca­tion, teach­ers need to be placed at scare away in­vestors and they don't care how much dam­age they do to the coun­try.”

He went on: “The leader of the op­po­si­tion, Philip J Pierre, was act­ing prime min­is­ter when the 2015 de­ci­sion was taken in favour of a dol­phin park op­er­ated by San­dals re­sorts. I would love to hear him ex­plain his po­si­tions back then and now re­gard­ing dol­phin parks.”

On Tues­day, at the en­trance to the par­lia­ment build­ing, after Pierre had read out the rea­sons be­hind his mo­tion of no con­fi­dence in the gov­ern­ment, a re­porter asked him to ex­plain his ev­i­dent change of heart on the ques­tion of dol­phins. He said: “I am say­ing to you that the fore­front of that en­deav­our. “We need to look at how teach­ers are able to use the equip­ment as well as for­mu­late strong the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal meth­ods,” he says. "Via the Com­mon­wealth of Learn­ing, one new pol­icy—ICT in Ed­u­ca­tion and Strat­egy—has been de­vel­oped. Its in­tended out­comes in­clude gen­der eq­uity, sup­port­ing STEM ed­u­ca­tion, spe­cial needs ed­u­ca­tion, eq­ui­table ac­cess for all stu­dents, life­long learn­ing and open ed­u­ca­tional re­sources.” The nec­es­sary doc­u­men­ta­tion has been com­pleted and cur­rently is wait­ing to be tabled be­fore Cab­i­net. the po­si­tion of the St. Lu­cia Labour Party now is that we will not en­cour­age the con­struc­tion of dol­phin parks in Saint Lu­cia. This is the po­si­tion now.”

Pressed fur­ther on the mat­ter, he re­peated him­self. “I am speak­ing about the Labour Party's po­si­tion now. We are against dol­phin parks here.” He in­sisted that the party had never ap­proved the con­struc­tion of any dol­phin park. “Ap­proval comes from the De­vel­op­ment Con­trol Au­thor­ity,” he said. “The lan­guage in the 2015 Cab­i­net con­clu­sion speaks to con­ces­sions, that's all.”

Saint Lu­cia takes on the mam­moth task of in­cor­po­rat­ing tech­nol­ogy into schools de­spite the fact that the coun­try suf­fers from crip­pling debt and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties.

Philip J Pierre (cen­tre) ad­dress­ing re­porters out­side the par­lia­ment build­ing on Tues­day.

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