How Sustainable is the "One Tablet per Secondary School Student" Programme?
Two issues were at the forefront of the minds of Dominican teachers as they observed World Teachers Day (WTD) on 5th October. These were, firstly, the introduction of tablets to secondary school children and the state of the education system after the devastation of Tropical Storm Erika.
Let's take the tablets first. Last week the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) government began the delivery of tablets to students to fulfill an election campaign promise that Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit made at a rally in the Kalinago Territory just prior to the December 2014 general elections.
At that rally Skerrit said this: "Ladies and gentlemen, I have been speaking to you about the fact that this Labour Party has secured a commitment for the purchase of 7,500 tablets for our school children".
The Prime Minister then went on to display a sample of the tablet as his fellow campaigners clapped and cheered and danced and shouted. Mr. Skerrit further declared that the students will receive the tablets in January 2015. It's now the end of September 2015 but as we say here "better late than never". Was the promise of tablets to children a blatant act of vote-buying or an awkward delivery of an education plan or policy? Your guess may be better than mine.
When Skerrit made that promise some persons, especially on the opposition bench, felt that that was a move of a desperate politician dangling goodies before the eyes of a gullible electorate. But Skerrit has proved them wrong as he delivered the first batch of tablets to the Pierre Charles Secondary School in Grand Bay last Wednesday.
But that's not the issue that teachers should worry about on World Teachers Day 2015. They should worry that the government has apparently introduced a new factor in the school system without planning, without considering the negative impact and planning to reduce them, without considering the sustainability of the "One Tablet per Child" programme as it is called. Is it really a "one tablet per child" programme or should it be called more accurately "One Tablet per Secondary School Child"?
It is apparent that the Ministry of Education has designed and distributed no guidelines for the use of these tablets, their replacement, their maintenance and their use. Is the ministry being naïve, irresponsible and or just foolhardy or are teachers expected to create the rules as they go along?
Having said this we must acknowledge that technology is changing the world and hence the education system must fall in line. So the introduction of tablets in the school system is not a negative thing per se. It's just that the programme appears to be unstructured and unplanned with a devil-may-care attitude to boot.
Many educationists suggest that the region lacks adequate digital media literacy training for teachers, uses out-of-date learning materials and teaching practices and educational institutions have failed to adapt to informal education, on-line education or e-learning. The point is the learning environment is changing and that should not be ignored.
Making that point more forcefully was Dr. Francis Severin, the Director of the University of the West Indies Open Campus Country Sites. He told principals and teachers of secondary schools who were attending the 25th Biennial Conference of the Caribbean Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (CAPSS) in Dominica on Monday July 20, 2015 that their external environment has changed significantly. He said that principals worry about the increasing violence and delinquency within schools; that they are "ill-at-ease" with male underachievement; that their respectability in the community has diminished; that they may be threatened by new entrants to the teaching profession who hold impressive college credentials; and that many principals are alarmed by the changing technological environment and the expansion of social media.
On issue of the use of social media and IT in education, Dr. Severin told the principals that information technology "is the new kid in town" and the systems are here to stay.
"The basic and irreducible fact is that we can no longer run away from the reality of IT's impact on education and the learning environment. If we attempt to, the world will leave us behind and, at any rate, your students will not accept it," he said.
The UWI educator added that though social media in the classroom has been a controversial issue and many education leaders have expressed "trepidation and consternation" at its use in the classroom, the ban may be counter-productive.
"In my opinion, these measures have only made the student resistance stronger. The truth is, students will be using social media so we might as well institutionalize their use in a "controlled" environment. To do otherwise is to be naïve" he said.
As teachers all over the world observe World Teachers Day under the theme "Empowering Teachers, Building Sustainable Societies" the status of teachers in Dominica must be given important consideration. But the plight of teachers from Petite Savanne in particular should be at the top of the agenda of the Dominica Association of Teachers (DAT).
As you may already know Tropical Strom Erika struck Dominica in late August 2015 and set back the country's development to more than two decades. According to the DAT more than 14 schools were completely or partially destroyed, others were unreachable due to the destruction of the road network. One of the worst hit areas in Dominica was Petite Savanne where 217 houses of residents, including teachers', were destroyed by landslides. In addition the school system was severely affected and much effort is required to repair the physical and psychological damage cause by Erika.
That is why the world-wide theme for WTD 2015 "Empowering teachers, building sustainable societies" is timely and appropriate to the challenge of the "uncontrolled" use of tablets in Dominican secondary schools and recovery of the school system after the ravages of TS Erika.