Saturday, November 24, 2018

Report Says No Evidence Laptop Programme Improved Student Performance

Germain Anthony, Ministry of Education’s Curriculum officer for Technology Integration.

It’s almost impossible to discuss modern-day development without factoring in technology. In more advanced countries, no longer are classes made up of a few desks, chairs, shelves and a blackboard. Modern schools feature stimuli through various forms of digitization, all in an effort to increase efficiency and productivity.  Saint Lucia officially embarked on the quest of technology integration in education a decade or so ago although the journey has proved anything but easy.

A few examples of our local Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-based initiatives include a laptop programme, formal teacher training in technology integration, increased ICT infrastructure, an auto-skill programme, a pilot computer coding and robotics programme and new technology policy development. Although computer and information technology in schools is not entirely new to Saint Lucia, much more effort has been made over the years in specific areas such as the facilitating of computer laboratories in nearly every secondary school on the island, as well as an ICT room in primary schools. Teaching digital literacy to students at a lower secondary school level is also now a mandatory part of the curriculam. In primary schools teachers are encouraged to use and teach basic computer tools and skills during their Language, Arts, Mathematics and Science classes.

For the local government it isn’t simply about using taxpayer dollars and grant monies to remain up to speed with global changes. More detailed objectives for these initiatives include enhancement of the learning environment for students, increased access to computers and information, and raising student achievement through specific interventions. But how significant have been the strides toward those goals? In 2013 over 3,300 laptops were provided to students at the Form Four level, as well as to teachers. However, according to the 2017 “Status of ICT in Saint Lucia” report,  “there were issues with software limitations, inadequate educational content, perceived non-educational use of the laptops by students” and so on. “No evidence has been presented to the effect that student performance improved as a result of the laptop programme.”

As for the incorporation of technology into school curriculums, Saint Lucia’s ICT Curriculum Officer, Germain Anthony says, “For the past three years we’ve hosted teacher technology integration training, which involves highlighting to teachers how tech can support how they teach. But of course there are some constraints, such as the infrastructure. Some labs are not adequately equipped.” Also: “To speak on successes and challenges is difficult. There are so many variables. I always say what most affects student performance is the quality of teaching. So at the forefront should be the teacher’s capacity to teach those concepts. That’s where the teacher training in technology comes in. You can tell the teachers are always very happy to take those courses. Some of them were already doing those things. They face challenges, however: poor or no internet in the classrooms;  bandwidth at schools is quite low.” Anthony says a new initiative, CARCIP (Caribbean Regional Communication Infrastructure Program), if implemented can deliver higher bandwidth to some schools and possibly provide a solution.

Another concern: “In some schools the approach is very much pro-ICT. The principals and teachers are trying different things, like engaging the private sector and parents in an effort to raise funds so that students can have better access to technology. Some of the teachers, despite discouragements, still manage to do a lot with technology. They take their own laptops, projectors and other devices to their schools. On the other hand, the approach in some schools is more traditional; the principals may not think technology is imperative.”

Anthony said that ideally all schools should have higher broadband internet, campus wifi where internet can be accessed in classrooms, interactive white boards, one or two camcorders, an adequate number of projectors and access to learner-management systems like moodles or Google classrooms so that class content can be made available to students 24/7. But these things demand fairly large amounts of cash. “I think that if the ministry had its way we would have had those things in schools years ago but Saint Lucia is a poor country, a small island developing state.”   

ICT in Education, though not allocated a set budget, is managed by the Ministry of Education. Says Anthony: “In an ideal situation we would have a set amount of funding to support technology integration. Then I will be in a position to consult with some tech teachers to see how much can be stretched, and then we would be able to incrementally make some steady progress. But what we have right now is basically stand-alone initiatives.” Some past and current ICT projects have been made possible via international grants.

As earlier stated, Anthony strongly believes that to make strides in ICT education, teachers need to be placed at the forefront of that endeavour. “We need to look at how teachers are able to use the equipment as well as formulate strong theoretical and practical methods,” he says. “Via the Commonwealth of Learning, one new policy—ICT in Education and Strategy—has been developed. Its intended outcomes include gender equity, supporting STEM education, special needs education, equitable access for all students, lifelong learning and open educational resources.” The necessary documentation has been completed and currently is waiting to be tabled before Cabinet.


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