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Ministry on handing out of laptops: ‘Rest days’ by teachers caused delay
This year’s Form One school children have not yet received their laptop computers and the Ministry of Education’s communications manager, Yolanda Morales-Carvalho, is blaming the two-day ‘rest’ teachers took last week. Laptop distribution began on September 5 and was expected to take two weeks. However, Morales-Carvalho said on Monday in a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian that the ministry was still delivering them.
She could not say how many laptops had been handed out or how much longer distribution was expected to take. Many teachers stayed home last Thursday and Friday in protest of prolonged wage negotiations. Some parents kept their children at home on those two days. Morales-Carvalho said both parents and students must be present to sign for the receipt of laptops. Last month, during a post-Cabinet briefing, Education Minister, Dr Tim Gopeesingh, said more than 17,000 laptops would be distributed this year.
Laptops are part of the Government’s eConnect and Learn (e-Cal) programme initiated in 2010 to integrate information communications technology (ICT) into education. Although this is the third school year that students were receiving laptops, e-books have not yet been implemented and concern is mounting about the effectiveness of the programme.
Morales-Carvalho said Gopeesingh was “exploring the possibility” of turning some textbooks into e-books but added that “not everything could be uploaded to the computers.” While Morales-Carvalho claims the main reason why 220 laptops had been returned to the ministry for repair this year was lack of proper care, parent Dion Herbert, of Port-of-Spain, says the computers were not of good quality.
Herbert’s son, a Form Two student at Fatima College, received a Lenovo laptop last year. Herbert said the computer crashed roughly once every three months. The wait for repairs was approximately two to three weeks, prompting Herbert to skip the school technician and take the machine directly to the supplier, Memory Bank, he said in a telephone interview. He added that technicians were supposed to attend the school weekly, on Thursdays, but visits have waned to non-existent.
In addition to concerns over maintenance, Herbert also expressed disappointment over the way the laptops were used. “They definitely had an idea but didn’t quite plan it out. If it is you have a laptop and want students to use it in school, why would you have so many textbooks on the booklist?” Herbert asked. “I thought they would have books on PDF and interactive homework sessions or an interactive Web site that can be logged into from home,” he added.
He said his son used the laptop in only four out of 11 classes. The eCal Facebook fan page has not been updated since March 2011. Meanwhile, president of the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA), Zena Ramatali, said her organisation had concerns about security for school equipment.
She said there have been no substantial upgrades to school security systems in the past six years and security guards were not enough, since the theft of the contents of an entire computer lab at La Horquetta North Government Primary in 2006 while a guard was on site. She also said students should be acclimatised to computer usage in primary school and expressed concern that the laptops were used mostly for games and social networking.
She said there was never a proper plan for usage of laptops in schools and that the many ways in which technology could enhance education had not been fully achieved. In response, Morales-Carvalho said training programmes were ongoing and that security systems were continuously updated. She pointed out that in most cases the laptops were in the care of students, who take them home. The students and their parents then become responsible for the laptops until Form Five, she added.
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