Leading from behind

We have not done any scientific analysis of newspaper headlines or radio and television news content, but we believe we cannot be far off base when we conclude that over the past year or so no issues have taken centre stage like the economy and education.

Unfortunately, in both instances these two areas of our national life have been too often in the spotlight because of events that can be considered negative. We do not intend to deal with our economy in this article, but we certainly have a few things to say about one aspect of education which we believe is critical to our national development.

We refer to the issue of the use of technology in our schools, prompted largely by a comment late last week by the principal of one of our secondary institutions, which suggested to us that he was so far removed from the reality of modern technology in education that it instantly raised a red flag. In response to a suggestion that secondary school students should be issued with tablets, he questioned their utility, concluded they were too expensive for Government to consider and wondered who would repair them if they were damaged.

We wholeheartedly embrace the full utilisation of the technology in schools on a number of fronts. We believe we have long passed the stage of chalk and talk and hold strongly to the view that the skillful deployment of the technology can be an effective counter to many of the challenges that now confront our teachers.

For one, the capacity to personalise the technology and the multiple options it offers can be a most effective leveller in an environment where children of varying abilities are expected to perform at the same level and be ready for the same exams at the same time.

And while any principal who focuses on cost as his only yardstick for declaring the technology out of reach of authorities, demonstrates clearly that he is operating in a different galaxy, it might assist his thought process if someone told him that the cost of half a dozen books under the Textbook Loan Scheme could cover the cost of a good quality tablet. We believe that most students are issued with as many as 15 or 16 of these annually.

In case he and other out-of-step principals have not recognised it yet, your school children do just about everything except shower with smart phones and other similar devices attached to them. Look at them even in church: they no longer take Bibles with them, but choose instead to access the scripture instantly on their smart phones.

Ask a child how he gets assistance with a homework problem he can’t solve. He takes a picture with a smart phone, sends it to some colleague or adult who has passed that way before, and receives the assistance via the same technology.

Yes, there will be challenges thrown up by providing children with tablets en masse. Some will use them to share pornography, some will spend too much time on games, some will drop them or expose them in rain etc. But the replacement rate for textbooks in the schools suggest serious challenges already exist with the conventional route. If a child and his parents know, however, that a tablet has to last five years, we suggest the approach to care will be different. In any event, companies that issue laptops and tablets to staff usually take the precaution of insuring them in case of loss of damage, so what would stop the ministry from instituting any similar arrangements for our school children?

In many respects Barbados has lost or is losing its edge when it comes to how we stack up against our neighbours, and conservative, archaic thinking and approaches don’t help. We don’t doubt that this principal, like all his colleagues, understands traditional approaches to education and have contributed much to our nation’s development.

However, it is clear that certain aspects of national development today can’t be driven from traditional bases, and perhaps when it comes to deployment of technology in education, both policy formulation and implementation should reside in the headquarters of the Ministry of Education. This should also facilitate equitable treatment, particularly where some principals are substantially more aware than others.

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