As technology advances generally, and developments in information technology in particular, continue to refine the way we live, it is no surprise that the concept of e-Learning has taken hold in classrooms of many countries of the world. Despite the fact that traditional classrooms are still very much the standard delivery method for educating the masses, there is an increasing recognition that the internet is an incomparable tool for information delivery because of its ubiquity and the fact it is a repository of information and raw data.
Just this November, the Ministry of Education launched its first ‘Smart Classroom’ at the National Centre for Education and Resource Development (NCERD) in Kingston, George-town. The Smart Classroom is touted as intended to bridge the gap between coastal schools and those in the hinterland areas and rural communities. The Smart Classroom is designed to make it possible for a single teacher to deliver educational instruction to connected students in different communities creating a virtual ‘universal’ classroom.
In delivering her remarks at the launch, Minister of Education Nicolette Henry described the occasion as a “high moment” and lauded the ministry’s embracing of a “21st century teaching tool.” Indeed this must be considered a welcome advancement in the education sector in Guyana and the ministry and NCERD in particular must receive accolades for this US$30,000 investment in ICT as a learning tool for use in our schools.
The Ministry of Education has had its share of negative incidents and challenges over the years and even recently, not the least of which has been its questionable handling of the teachers’ pay dispute. This progressive use of ICT for the potential benefit of the nation’s children is a step in the right direction and shows a willingness to embrace change and invite innovation in the way education is provided by the ministry.
Not that the concept of a Smart Classroom in Guyana is completely new; in November 2015 we reported that the technology giant Samsung was partnering with the North Ruimveldt Multilateral School in a ‘Smart School’ project that would see the creation of digital classrooms. The core focus of that project was in the areas of Science, Mathematics and English Language, but this project was only expected to last one year.
With the geographical terrain challenges which come with living in Guyana it is very difficult to transmit teaching material, teachers and teaching skills training in many rural and hinterland communities. A very carefully designed and implemented programme of Smart Classrooms and e-Learning systems can modernize and overhaul the system of delivery of quality education over the length and breadth of Guyana. However, installation of Smart Classroom capabilities to schools around the country will come with their own specific challenges which, if not mitigated, could have a very damaging effect and possibly result in even derailing the project.
Physical security, maintenance and periodic upgrades, avoiding misuse, and internet security are just some of the issues that will have to be addressed in schools around the country where investments in Smart Classrooms will be made. Schools in all parts of Guyana are noted for being poorly secured in addition to being inadequately maintained. The stability and regularity of the electricity supply will also impact greatly on the effectiveness of the programme, as will the availability of round-the-clock troubleshooting fixes from trained maintenance personnel both in the regions and in the city centre as well.
Innovative projects are among the most difficult to sustain in Guyana as there is usually a need for meticulous adherence to well documented operating procedures and an in-house ability to deal with the unexpected challenges which new projects will inevitably present.
The NCERD Smart Classroom is equipped with a touch-screen Promethean Board, 30 charging stations for tablets, smart phones and computers, and ergonomic furniture, with internet connectivity being provided by the eGovernance Unit at a connection speed of 100 megabytes per second. These are the basic items necessary for classification as a Smart Classroom, in addition to which computerized equipment usually requires a controlled, dustless environment with air conditioning systems installed.
From all that we have contemplated so far it begins to be clearer that if this project is to be sustainable and to grow even minimally from what might be currently conceptualized, then there will have to be a significant financial budget to support its operation, even in its infancy, with full support personnel and clearly documented guidelines and regulations to be followed by students and teachers alike as well as those managing the system.
The Ministry of Education has obviously some big plans going forward as it has secured funding for several developments such as the US$250,000 upgrade in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) department at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) via an MOU with the Government of China. If the Smart Classroom project continues to be sustainably rolled out in selected schools around the country this will be a major boost for the education sector and the way teaching is done in Guyana.
One of the major benefits of the Smart Classroom setting is that it removes the need for note-taking while the teacher is teaching, since the entire lesson can be made available to the students afterwards via flash or thumb drives and email. This also means that students who are absent through illness or other legitimate reason can still have the benefit of the teaching, and students who are present can focus more on digesting the information being transmitted rather than being distracted with scrupulous note-taking.
Smart Classrooms are the way of the future and the future is upon us.