“Students will not be given personal laptops,” Garcia said. “Laptops will be the property of the school.” Fifty laptops will be for a school’s Form I pool of student while 50 will be for the Form II pool, the minister explained. Some 12,600 laptops will be supplied in the new term but will be the property of the schools, at a cost of $63 million, compared to an annual cost of $253 million by the PP to outfit every First Form student with his/her personal laptop.
Chief Education Officer Harrilall Harricharan said the laptops will each cost about $2,400, compared to $2,500 to $4,100 cost per laptop, over the previous five years. Otherwise, Garcia promised no reduction in the Government’s provision of free school meals. Based on his introductory remarks that the meals are for “those in need of assistance”, Newsday asked if there will be any cuts in the National School Feeding Programme, to which Garcia declared, “No, no, no!” Stacy Barran, of the National School Feeding Programme, said the provision of 90,000 lunches and 58,000 breakfast meals will continue, but to try to incorporate more local foodstuffs, working with the Ministry of Agriculture.
She cited breadfruit, cassava and watermelon. Asked if local foodstuffs are more costly than imports, she said costs can be kept down by bulk-buying. She said the Programme constantly monitors if pupils are actually eating the meals supplied, and gave an example of a tasty local dish as cassava muffins.
Apart from laptops and meals, Garcia declined to take questions on pressing matters such as the status of school repairs and school readiness for the new school term which is a little over a week away.
In brief remarks after the press conference, Garcia said sewer repairs are ongoing at the nation’s schools, there is yet no change in the Government’s closure of GATE to persons over 50 years of age and no change in the State’s provision of textbooks to schools, but a ten percent top-up in supplies at most forms in primary and secondary schools but 100 percent replacement at Infant level.
Garcia justified the cutback in laptops by lamenting on the “colossal waste” and a need to get “value for money”, as he alluded to pupil misuse of laptops to play games instead of studying. He bemoaned a lack of backup for the laptops including teacher training and Internet access at schools. He said Harricharan had run a study to assess the effectiveness of laptop use, especially to meet this Government’s policy of infusing ICT into the school curriculum and exposing all pupils to ICT.
Garcia said the study found problems arising from the former PP regime’s alleged lack of an “ICT Policy”, citing one pupil saying that a lack of Internet access had led pupils to use the laptops mainly to play games and record school fights. He said the provision of one laptop per pupil was found to be counter productive as it led to no increase in student performance in core subject-areas.
Garcia detailed the deficiencies in laptop use found by the Ministry’s study. The study found no ICT Policy including a lack of monitoring and evaluation, poor governance structure and management of the programme, poor backup infrastructure in schools, limited Internet access, lack of training of teachers to integrate ICT into the school curriculum, insufficient laptops for teachers and poor quality of laptops. Garcia revealed his Five Point Plan to remedy these shortfalls. This includes an “ICT in Education Policy” including cyber- bullying and social media policy, establishment of governance structures to monitor laptop use, an ICT Training Plan for teachers and educators, curriculum reform to support ICT infusion and provision of ICT infrastructure and equipment including Internet access and ICT labs. Harricharan the Central Tenders Board will do an open tender to acquire the items.
He said the Ministry has upgraded the “specs”/specifications of the laptops, so as to buy items of better quality than before. Monitoring and support are also being upgraded, he added. Asked if the schools could secure the new laptops, he said the Ministry will work with them, such as by provision of charging-cards to remedy past problems of schools having no charging facilities. Harricharan said most teachers are computer literate but they need training in how to infuse ICT into the curriculum, such as could be provided by working with the “Commonwealth of Learning”.
Former education minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh yesterday responded to the laptop decrease saying the policy change will deprive 36,000 pupils (Forms One and Two) of personal laptops and is a betrayal of the population’s trust.
“All secondary schools and some 300 primary already have computer labs,” said Gopeesingh. “So giving them these laptops is only to deceive the country when in fact this Government is reneging on its election promise. The Government should hold its head in shame.” He criticised Garcia for reducing the supply of school textbooks, stopping the Homework Centre programme, removing coursework from the SEA Exam and stopping 60 school construction projects which commenced under the former PP regime. “They are spiting the students. Nothing has been done in the country in the past year in any Ministry. The people are suffering,” Gopeesingh said.