Pupils who will be entering Form One in secondary schools in the new school term, which opens on September 5, will face disappointment as they will not be receiving free personal laptops from the Government.
Instead, the Government, in revamping the laptop distribution programme, will seek to equip 50 high-quality laptops per school.
This was yesterday revealed by Education Minister Anthony Garcia during a press conference at the Ministry of Education, in St Clair.
Garcia said that the new policy was a major departure from the practice of the former government–the People's Partnership government–which a study conducted showed was wasteful and counter-productive.
Garcia disclosed that 12,600 laptops will be purchased for use by Form One and Two students, "of that 6,300 will be for the use of Form One's and 6,300 for Form Two's. 50 laptops will be used by Form One's in each secondary school and they would not be given as personal laptops but rather the laptops will be as property of the schools."
Garcia also disclosed that Internet access in the schools will be upgraded and teacher training in ICT will be introduced.
"This new policy will prevent waste that occurred over the last five years as it was proven that the laptops were mainly used by the students for the playing of games and recording of fights because there was no availability of connectivity to the Internet, which in other words proved to be counter-productive," Garcia said.
"We are ensuring value for money and ensuring that the laptops be put to the correct use," he said.
When asked how much money the Government will be saving now that the programme has been revamped, Garcia said approximately $30 million a year. He claimed that under the previous government a laptop cost between $12,000 to $15,000 and under the new initiative it will only cost the Government $4,135.79 each. He said that the overall the cost of the revamped programme will be in the tune of $62 million, as opposed to the last government spending in excess of $500 million on the same initiative.
Opposition condemns move
In response to Garcia's announcement, former Education minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh disputed the figures disclosed by Garcia.
"Altogether we would have spent $250 million for the five years. We, through the Central Tenders Board, in the first year purchased a unit for $4,200 and by 2015, we were purchasing per laptop at $2,200," Gopeesingh said.
"And these laptops were of high quality. When I came in I met connectivity in schools at some degree and that was improved from five megabytes to 100 megabytes," he said.
Gopeesingh also claimed that each secondary school had between one and six computer labs, where one lab averaged about 60 computers.
"I think that the Minister of Education is being mischievous there in his figures and should be relieved of his responsibilities because he has carried the education process back by 20 years in just one year," Gopeesingh said.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar described the decision as another example of the Keith Rowley administration not understanding the benefits of investing in education. Speaking to CNC3 last night, Persad-Bissessar said the new policy also limits development of the country.
She also questioned what happened to the laptops bought for distribution last year.