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Managers of e-learning project tout positive results

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor — features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, February 13, 2014    

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WHEN the e-Learning Jamaica project formally ends at the end of this fiscal year, it would have expended US$52 million, or just about J$4.3 billion, and distributed close to 100 desktop computers, over 50 laptops and a range of instructional and teacher training materials, computer and audiovisual equipment and networks, and diagnostic tests to each of the 203 educational institutions on its list.

The intention is to promote the integration of technology into the education system to equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to live and learn in a digital world.

But managers of the project — a thrust of the Government of Jamaica funded by the Universal Access Fund which is financed by a percentage of the cost of international phone calls that terminate in Jamaica — are not yet able to speak definitively to the success of the project in terms of its impact on learning since it started, in 2005.

"We are just about to do an impact assessment to see the impact of technology because there are so many other variables," CEO of e-Learning Jamaica Company Limited Avrill Crawford told editors and reporters at Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange this week.

She said that there are indications that the impact has been positive, as Friday attendance rates among boys in particular has increased, as have punctuality figures. Other than that, Crawford touted the project's technology enrichment feature in which individual learning programmes were designed for each child based on his/her literacy and numeracy levels.

"We have had very good results...We put specially integrated learning software in some of the lower performing schools, about 30 of them, and engaged 600 students. This software allows each child, in literacy and numeracy, to move at his or her own pace and the teacher can actually see what is happening and be able to intervene if necessary. It was a pilot for about a year and nearly all the students improved by at least two grade levels, some four," Crawford said.

The e-learning high school project includes 203 educational institutions — 166 public high schools, six public special schools, 10 teachers colleges, five community colleges, and 16 independent high schools.

It developed instructional materials in 11 CXC CSEC subject areas — English language, mathematics, biology, chemistry, information technology, integrated science, physics, geography, Spanish, social studies, building technology — impacted 500,000 students across grades seven to 11 and trained more than 11,500 teachers.

Each school in the programme received, on average, one server, 56 desktop computers, 20 laptops, three printers, 16 multimedia projectors and screens, four document cameras, two scanners, two digital cameras, two TV sets, three DVD/CD players, two VCR players, 10 netbooks, and two interactive mobile white boards.

There are also plans to introduce a pilot project, valued at $1.4 billion, to distribute tablet computers to 38 pre-primary, primary, all-age, junior high schools, as well as 11 high schools and one college.

Still on the subject of the project's impact, GC Foster College lecturer and product of the teacher training under e-Learning Jamaica Denise Stoney-James, and commissioner and CEO of the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission and chairperson of Eduvision 2014, Maxine Henry Wilson, who were also guests of the Observer Monday Exchange, said the deliverables were wider than exams grades.

"We assess based on learning outcomes and learning outcomes don't mean that everyone will now pass the subject area. Learning outcomes can mean moving them from a reading at a grade one level to now reading at a grade three level," Stoney-James said.

She explained, for example, that the visual aspects of technology-based teaching "brings things alive (so that) students are able to connect with it better and as a result students are able to learn more". It also has implications for improving writing, she said, since a student's work can be projected onto a screen for everyone to see, rather than remaining static on the pages of a notebook where only the teacher can review it.

Henry-Wilson, a former minister of education, added that technology-based learning allows for differentiated teaching and learning according to the strengths and weakness of individual students.

"It allows the teacher to segment her classroom... and rather than talk to everybody in the same way, you are able to segment your classroom and plan for children with different abilities. That is one of the strengths of the project. So, the learning outcome is not necessarily passing exams, it is engagement, it is interaction, it is creativity, it is classroom management," Henry Wilson said.

The cost and the distribution aside, Henry Wilson said the broader concern was embedding the technology in our daily lives "from the taximan right up".

The equipment and other assets purchased under the project will be handed over to the Ministry of Education at the end of March. There will however, be "a few carryover activities to about September, including the project impact assessment".

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