?When I first heard of the People's Partnership's election promise that every child who wrote the SEA exam would be given a free laptop computer, my first reaction was why? What was the thinking behind it?
What would they do with them? Play games? Lime on Facebook and Twitter? Watch videos and listen to music on YouTube? Visit chat rooms, pretending to be adults where they will meet adults pretending to be children? Visit undesirable Web sites for kicks or entertainment? How many would use it to improve their vocabulary? I cannot imagine that these children would be expected to take their laptops to school for that would just get in the way of their normal school work. Even if they did, it would create an unnecessary divide between the Form 1 students with laptops and the rest of the school without. We could also expect to see older students bullying the young ones to use their computers and I am certain that many would be stolen. Would their break times be spent instant-messaging their friends and surfing the Net rather than on some more wholesome activity, like playing sports? So taking them to school would be a bad idea all round.
I have many friends and acquaintances who teach in high school and many complain about the very low levels of literacy and numeracy among Form 1 students (others as well). (I just heard that TTUTA plans to meet with Minister of Education Tim Gopeesingh to discuss the high rate of illiteracy in the nation's schools as a matter of urgency.) Is it really such a good idea to give students, many of whom could barely read and write, a laptop unless there was some concomitant programme that will help them to use the computer to improve their reading and writing skills? I'm sorry, but giving a laptop to someone merely because he/she attended primary school and attained the age of 11 has no educational merit other than the good deed of giving someone a gift. The irony here is that all these students would be leaving their primary schools armed with their own laptops while the schools themselves have none.
Having made the promise, I suppose Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is obliged to keep it but please let it be a one-time offer. Wouldn't it have been much better to spend the money on computers for the schools where many more could benefit? But computers alone would not solve anything. On the face of it, putting computers in schools sounds like a good idea. But there are many schools in the country with well-equipped computer labs which are hardly ever used for educational purposes. Some are not used at all. Reason? The issue of staffing was never properly addressed. In some schools, a teacher would be asked to see about the lab in addition to his/her normal teaching duties. This may get the ball rolling in the very short term but is unacceptable as a policy.
Unless properly trained and qualified staff are recruited for the sole purpose of managing the lab and training regular teaching staff in the use of appropriate educational and productivity software, computer labs in schools would just continue to be an unrewarding, expensive experiment.
?Dr Noel Kalicharan