Tuesday, 26 February 2013 02:30
By Donna-Marie McIntosh
Antigua St. John's - The use of machines to assist in communication and learning is not a novel idea. For more than 50 years, people with disabilities have been using technology to communicate.
The portability, accessibility, and adaptability of tablet computers were not missed by the special-needs community, which very early grasped the possibilities they presented. Now, the Government of Antigua & Barbuda has followed in the same vein with the GATE program in the twin-island state to enhance the way students learn.
The scheme originally stirred up some controversy with some people for the idea, while others were very anti-tablet. One concern was socialisation, and the fear that a child could become lost in the immersive nature of the device.
Another concern was that the tablets would aid and encourage children in misappropriate use, although the most students already have smartphones. Although, one way or another, we are discussing children or rather, young adults. They will misuse the internet, therefore shouldn’t the responsibility fall on the parent to enforce rules, restrictions and perhaps one could go as far as to say, values in their children?
In regards to learning, technology alone is no remedy for the challenges of education, which then begs the question – are the students finding a benefit to the scheme?
The teachers are walking that line that is virgin territory, as they are professionals who are now learning the technology alongside their students.
However, at the same time, the pilot schools have found that the tablets can be excellent devices to facilitate or initiate contact between students and their teachers.
Mrs Moore, a history teacher at Antigua Girls’ High School, believes the “only problem is buffering, due to so many students using the internet at the same time. Individual earphones are also needed, as with all the tablets playing at the same time, and with the buffering making the tablets go at different speeds, there can be slight confusion. It is more beneficial teaching with them than without.”
So it appears when speaking to a few of the teachers that the students at Antigua Girls’ High School are finding the tablets enjoyable to use. Apparently, the students are interacting well with them and it makes teaching certain topics more enjoyable.
Head Teacher at Island Academy Ronan Matthew is “grateful to be one of the schools to have received the programme, and there no complaints so far. It is too soon to determine if the programme is beneficial, as it has only been a matter of weeks. They are useful, but there is no subjective test that can be given to test that. There will always be some who have a negative view, but these are really due to pre-conceived ideas.”
Part of the challenge of defining a tablet’s place in the classroom is the pace of technological change. The first tablet computers - a marriage of smartphones and laptops - only appeared in the mass-consumer market within the last three years. There are no books or manuals for using them in the classroom. However, educators should make guidelines.
There can be a positive aspect to technology, tablets, and learning. The charity “One Laptop Per Child” conducted a scheme whereby they dropped off boxes containing Motorola tablets in Ethiopia, which were taped shut with no instructions,. The goal was to see if illiterate kids with no previous exposure to written words could learn how to read all by themselves, by experimenting with the tablet and its preloaded alphabet-training games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings, and other programmes. Apparently, early observations are encouraging.
Now, in no way is the GATE scheme a charity, or being compared to a charity, nor are the children of Antigua & Barbuda illiterate. But it is important to view a situation from all corners. It can be possible that the scheme will prove to be positive, against the negative aspects it may propose - but only time can tell.
Telecommunications Officer in the Ministry of Information Clement Samuel told Caribarena “so far, tablets have been given to fifth formers in pilot schools, and that has gone fairly well with very few teething problems. The feedback we have received from the students is that the content filter is too rigid. We have looked into this, and have had training with the suppliers, and we wish to be able to fix that without a compromise to the scheme.”
He added, “This week in Barbuda, tablets were given to students in third, fourth, and fifth form, with 80 percent opting in to the programme. It went extremely well in Barbuda, but the take-up varies from school to school, with 90 percent in Island Academy. A criticism has been that fifth form students who have yet to receive theirs will not have them for very long period.
So from Thursday, we will be rolling out approximately 145-160 tablets and the following week 900 to the other schools outside of the pilot scheme.”
According to Samuel, the Ministry of Education performed its own investigation into how the programme is working within the schools, and the feedback has been positive. The director of Education was present in Barbuda when the tablets were rolled out there. Samuel said, “the numbers are steadily increasing, and the more it is seen that the students are benefitting, it will make any reservations disappear.