PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — A regional forum examining the use of information communication technology (ICT) in education has agreed that while ICT is a fundamental element, in and of itself, it is only part of the solution needed to support the online delivery of content and the eventual digital transformation of the education system for Caribbean students.
The Trinidad-based Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) hosted a two-day forum to discuss the serious ramifications of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the education system.
The online interactive “ICT in Education – A Caribbean Forum” ended on Thursday and was held in collaboration with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
It brought together Caribbean educators, technocrats from ministries of education, telecommunications and ICT professionals and other stakeholders.
The presenters noted that the novel coronavirus pandemic has fast-tracked the Caribbean's push towards the digital transformation of its education systems, as regional governments sought in early 2020 to manage the spread of the SARS CoV-2 virus with the immediate cessation of face-to-face content delivery in favour of the online delivery of curricula.
“This shift revealed several significant and disturbing gaps, such as the inequitable access to ICT across socio-economic groups and between rural and urban areas in the region. Gaps also exist in some territories with regard to curricula and content within those curricula.
“It was noted that these issues will likely have long-term significance as students who are unable to access online or hybrid learning opportunities may 'drop out' impacting their futures and national levels of productivity, employment and employability and youth innovation and entrepreneurship,” said the CTU.
Directors general of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Dr Didicus Jules, told the more than 300 delegates attending the online event that “it is not enough to provide laptops in schools, if we do not ensure adequate broadband.
“Laptops with broadband but without educational content suited to the societal context is simply a tool for student serendipity. And laptops in classrooms without teacher understanding of the technology and teacher capability to utilise it as a pedagogical tool renders the device useless in the classroom context.”
Jules, a former registrar of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), said that transformation of education must be done across the whole education ecosystem, as change in one domain must be buttressed by corresponding changes in other domains of the system.
“As such, teacher training to improve the competencies in a virtual space; the creation of culturally appropriate content; innovative mechanisms for marginal and vulnerable students such as those challenged by disability and poverty; and the universal access to Internet connectivity and devices are some of the challenges that ministries of education had to address regionally,” he said.
The forum noted that as regional teachers, administrators and other supporting professionals sought to make the shift, a number of agencies rose to the task of providing the necessary support to aid the transition.
These included UNESCO, which produced the booklet ICT Competency Framework for Teachers, a document aimed at helping countries to develop comprehensive national teacher ICT competency policies and standards, while the OECS developed a number of online learning and instructional resources and platforms, including a digital library to aid teachers, students, parents within the Eastern Caribbean.