By Russell WilliamsIn the previous two articles I have suggested that there are many benefits for the development of Internet Exchange Points (IXP’s) within the Caribbean. I have also offered arguments, which identify contributing causes which have prevented us from maximising the benefits of technology. I will continue this thread in this piece.
A key hindrance is the lack of development in human capacity not only in the basic use of technology but also in key sectors such as networking and software development. Our governments and ministries of education have focused on equipping schools with computer labs, at the expense of investing in training teachers in how they can incorporate the use of computers into their lessons.
Many teachers are unaware of the benefits technology can play in their teaching, for example how they can create their own content to use with smart boards (Interactive White Boards) for example.
While attending a PTA last year I surveyed the level of computer ownership and internet access among those present. Although almost half had computers and about 30% had access to the internet, very few parents said they were proficient with the use of a Word Processor, a very basic tool in developing content for a blog or web site!
This is despite almost every community centre in St. Kitts having its own computer lab and several training programmes being made available over the years many of which were free! So, as mentioned in previous articles, there seems to be a disconnect – something is lacking in creating a compelling pull towards active engagement in technology among civil society.
Back in the 1980’s there was a home computer revolution in the UK, which also included a schools based approach which saw a little known company called Acorn create the BBC Microcomputer. Many schools were equipped with these computers, which could be programmed in the computing language BASIC, to control small robotic devices and introduced simple programming concepts.
Just a few weeks ago, I was listening to an expert saying that it was precisely as a result of that sort of initiative which allowed the UK to become a leader in the software development and computer games industry. Because the children who were exposed to technology and programming in the 80’s grew up to be the software developers of later years.
Now, compare what happened then with what we are seeing now. The computers then were very simple and you could write your own programs. They were not complex Windows systems without any compiler or any programming options. Teachers either learned or were trained in how to program them and students were introduced to basic programming and logic concepts needed to move a “turtle” from point A to B.
Additionally, I was listening to an interview with Walt Bender founder of Sugar Labs who developed the operating system for in the $100 laptop or original “One Laptop Per Child” programme. He rightly pointed out that Windows is an inappropriate platform for a school or learning environment, and suggested that a more intuitive interface such as that found in Sugar OS is better at introducing technology based concepts, such as word processing, e-mail, web browsing and collaboration as well as programming of course. Teachers, parents and any interested persons can download and try this system for free at www.sugarlabs.org.
I think a root and branch rethink of how we introduce and use technology in schools and education is required. There has to be a realisation that the single focus on the provision of hardware technology and or internet access are not silver bullets.
Photo courtesy: http://www.freedomsphoenix.com