COVID- 19 pandemic has forced the closure of educational institutions in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. To continue the educational process of the students, the government has introduced online teaching. There isn’t a common online platform which is used by the Ministry of Education to deliver the curriculum. Each school chooses to use its own online platform. The procedure has created anxiety for teachers, students and parents. It would appear that the ‘Education Revolution’ does not have an effective Information Communication Technology (ICT) component to its curriculum.
In the age of technology and after nineteen years in power, the Unity Labour Party (ULP) regime has failed miserably to implement an extensive and attractive ICT programme that would have benefitted Vincentians and all thedepartments of government. The failure of an effective ICT programme in the education system is evident and has contributed to the stress and anxiety of the parents. Some homes do not have internet service while some children are without computers.
We all agree that schooling should have continued online; as is done in other Caribbean countries. It is important that students continue their studies. The disruption would have further added to the many problems that are experienced in the education system in the country; example, our dropout rate, which is the highest in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. Jaime Saavedra, writing in Education for global development, on Educational challenges and opportunities of the Corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic, opines, “Maintaining the engagement of children; particularly young secondary school students is critical. Dropout rates are still very high in many countries, and a long period of disengagement can result in a further increase.”
The New Democratic Party supports the continuing teaching and learning process, but a more structured approach is needed. The lack of vision and proper planning by the ULP regime has created the problems that so many parents are complaining about as it relates to online teaching. It is all politics and not genuine educational development of the students. The government missed a golden opportunity ten years ago to incorporate ICT and online teaching to the schools’ curriculum when thousands of laptops were delivered to students of primary and secondary schools. In 2014, thousands of laptops were once again distributed. Education was not the focus. General elections were held in 2010 and 2015, so it was all about winning elections. Let us see how we can attempt to bribe the parents by giving their children laptops. Where are those laptops today? Suddenly, in 2015, another election year, the ULP government has promised thousands of tablets to students again.
The Honourable Terrance Ollivierre, parliamentary representative for the constituency of the Southern Grenadines, earlier this year asked of the Minister of Education the following question. What is the status of the once touted one laptop per child program and specifically how has the programme affected teaching and learning in our schools? The Minister did not give a satisfactory response to the question. It is the lack of vision in ICT by the government why there are so many problems associated with online teaching.
NDP ICT Programme
The New Democratic Party (NDP) understands and accepts that technology is not something in our future. It is here and it is now and we need to put it to work for our development. The NDP in collaboration with already-identified world-class partners will embark on an ambitious technology agenda that will adopt and adapt technology as a way of life for Vincentians, thereby transforming our economy in every sector and attracting technology businesses.
We will implement a coherent, improved programme for ICT in Education. Without a well thought-out and implemented ICT in Education programme, giving laptops and other devices to students and teachers will not have the required impact. The NDP will work with service providers and educators regionally to implement a programme that will, among other things, provide access to secondary school textbooks in digital form where possible, which will directly reduce the cost of education for those families with secondary level students at home, and we will also work with stakeholders and implement the most appropriate platform to implement online teaching.
The NDP will make Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education a priority. The NDP believes that a key factor in the country’s development in the 21st century will be the creation of a new generation of citizens with at least a basic grounding in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). We feel it is important that the citizens and students of St Vincent and the Grenadines should not be simply passive consumers of technology, but also originators and creators of technology. Education curriculum reform must therefore aim to bring the teaching of relevant subjects (including app development and coding) to the primary and secondary schools.
Further, we will transform healthcare through the use of technology. Healthcare practice will be taken to the next level with cloud-enabled record keeping at the district level making access to information and treatment easier and use SMS messaging to connect patients and healthcare workers to deliver medication reminders, appointment reminders, important alerts and health tips. We will initiate a telemedicine pilot project that will allow real-time our own doctors to connect with other doctors around the world to provide consultancy, advice and even perform minor procedures through the internet in real time collaboration.
The NDP will aggressively pursue new business ventures in ICT using our existing legislation to attract ICT businesses to our shores. Through appropriate incentives, we will create thousands new jobs in technology sector. We will turn St. Vincent and the Grenadines into a free wireless hotspot. Free, wireless internet connectivity will be available to residents and visitors, in town and country, in offices and at tourism sites. The NDP will make St. Vincent and the Grenadines work for all Vincentians.