Tue | May 23, 2017

Let technology lead way in education

Published:Sunday | January 25, 2015 | 1:00 AM

Meleisa Witter, Guest Columnist

The merger of education and innovation in this decade as the standard modus operandi is, without contradiction, one of the most important things the ministry tasked with educating the populace can do.

With the emergence of avant-garde software and technologies aimed at bringing information alive, traditional teaching and brick-and-mortar structures may remain important only for two main reasons, namely, to aid with encouraging an organised way of doing things, and providing a relatively safe place for youngsters to be while guardians go off to work.

Our minister of education, Rev Ronald Thwaites, and the minister of science, technology, energy and mining, Phillip Paulwell, have taken a first step with the implementation of the Tablets in Schools pilot project. But I wish to disabuse anyone so inclined of the notion that technological integration is limited to that. Rather, it must involve a seamless integration of many other facets of learning that relate to a transfer of information via technology.

The proper incorporation of technological integration into our learning systems will herald the dawning of a new era in Jamaica. If the vision can be adequately grasped and the synergies created to move this initiative forward, the challenges faced by both educators and students will be dramatically lessened.

Both teaching and learning are now hugely reliant on set factors, the main one being the ability of the individual teacher to transfer data in a way that is understood by a variety of students. And often the lament is heard that so many children are failing when, in reality, we should be shocked that so many are doing well.

The simple reason for this seemingly backward statement is that, having placed so many diverse students with various learning methods together, there is the grand expectation that all should conform to one teaching style and do equally well. The experts will tell us that there are many different learning styles and it is to the credit of many students that they actually adapt themselves to the traditional educational system enough to get passing grades.

Virtual reality

So what difference will technological integration make? Several, ideally. With this system of learning, the education process will become fun, interesting and more readily received by students. Virtual reality will render certain aspects of science, such as atoms, minute cells, bacteria and other microscopic elements, as tangible. No longer are they just mental constructs that require imaginative minds to comprehend, but they can now be easily presented in 3-D format, in live and living colour for the students to interface with.

Virtual tours of myriad facilities, institutions and other places relevant to learning can be done very easily, expanding students' working knowledge of these places.

Learning would become much more hands-on and interactive. Games, podcasts, videos and instructional white (or black) boards would be readily received by most, if not all, students. Additionally, a technologically integrated platform allows for an uber extensive range of information, literally at the fingertips, encouraging lateral leaning, which will result in more rounded education. And this is just scratching the surface of the possibilities.

So if this sounds all exciting, why is it not the reality? There are hurdles. A major one is the cost of this technology. It would cost the Ministry of Education millions and millions of dollars to implement such a system effectively. Maintenance of the technological infrastructure can be both time-consuming and costly, and creation of suitable content is likewise very time-consuming and hugely expensive. A solution is private organisations that have this vision to bring this about. And we do believe it will happen sometime over the next decade.

For the thinking person, however, some other things should also become obvious quite readily; namely, that the prevalence of teachers in the classroom will diminish. There will be much less work for teachers as students will now be able to access information in a structured way without their input. The really serious students can now be days or weeks ahead of the curriculum and challenges can be resolved right there online with virtual teachers and other online resources. Teachers would be advised to start training in other areas, as their jobs will become obsolete.

I recently completed a course of study in Canada without even reaching the Jamaican airport. It was all done online. I toured numerous publishing houses in Canada, interfaced with book stores and other publishing and distribution houses, hosted sales conferences, and did group projects with people whose physical appearances I don't even know. I conducted tests and exams and participated fully in my group projects without leaving the comfort of home.

And so I was very sad when I read the article in The Gleaner that carried the results of the survey conducted by the Centre for Leadership and Government at the University of the West Indies, which found that almost half of young Jamaicans would be willing to give up their citizenship to live in another country, as they do not find that the country's affairs are being managed effectively to give them any confidence for a better future here.

I may be wrong, but the results show a lack of far-sightedness of the future generation. Jamaica is far from perfect, which is one of the reasons it is still listed as a Third World country. But this lack of confidence in even their own ability to stem the tide of what they view as the mishandling of national affairs is alarming.

The world is flat

The innovative young people will be depended upon to drive this technological integration and provide the new wave for the future. Young Jamaicans have the potential to do great things right here in Jamaica. The world is opening up, or as Thomas Friedman put it, "The world is flat." And it gets flatter every day.

I recently had the distinct pleasure of being in a meeting with Roberto Trujillo of TruBios Commercialization (Mexico & US) and Dr Henry Lowe of Bio-Tech RDI and was simply amazed at the thought processes of these two older persons who had this clear vision of a future where biotechnology was a main driver and science and innovation were commonplace mechanisms for learning, wealth creation, health and medical systems, and everyday life. The sooner we embrace these concepts and teach them to the young ones, the sooner the nation will be a more inviting place to live.

Our constant reliance on sea, sun and sand as a main income earner must become a thing of the past if Jamaica is to truly see the back of its huge debt burden. It is obvious that the need to start teaching our people about the beauty of science, technology and innovation is at the youngest stage possible and there is no better way to do it than through technological integration. One thing is for certain: While learning is always fun for some, with technological integration, it will be fun for all.

Meleisa Witter is a publisher and creative and editorial director of a magazine. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and melcwitter@gmail.com.