Tuesday, January 23, 2018

'Another technological toy'

Parents, teachers complain about laptops

CRACKED screens, missing keys, power button malfunctions and batteries not staying charged are some of the issues parents and teachers of Form One pupils have been dealing with since Government gave out free laptops.

The Hewlett-Packard laptops, which were given to 17,300 First Form pupils as well as 3,000 teachers at a cost of $83 million, were meant to enhance the children's learning capabilities, but instead they have become an "uphill battle" for teachers and parents.

"More recently and it was inevitable, pornography has entered the schools via laptops. First it was cellphones, now it is via your laptops," said one concerned parent, who wanted to be identified only as Mrs Leacock.

The gift of free laptops at the beginning of the school term last September was Government's fulfilled manifesto promise, but, nearing the end of the school year, the initiative was being described as an implementation nightmare by education officials and parents.

Earlier this month, the Express exclusively highlighted some of the problems when it comes to incorporating the high-tech device into the schools' syllabus, ranging from poorly equipped teachers to a lack of Internet capabilities.

"The reality is that 12- and 13-year-olds are not responsible, nor prudent enough in their thinking to take care of, far less, use the laptop and harness its power to influence and access both good and bad at this tender age. We are being unfair in our expectations, and at the same time curtailing their opportunity to learn, by giving them another technological toy to entertain themselves with, and expecting better results in the long run," said Mrs Leacock.

"A peep into any household whose child has their laptop at home would reveal the parent's mantra of 'turn that thing off' with increased frequency, because now, in addition the Xbox, iPod, cellphone and TV to compete for our time and attention, our Form One children can now be mobile and walk into his bedroom/ bathroom and spend hours on the Internet or playing games, simply because they can, as it is their laptop.

"So in addition to more unsupervised use of this communication technology, we are fostering an increase in obesity. If before we had a hard time getting our children outside to play, this makes it all the more difficult, and the reality is that they have these laptops for a few years, so these bad habits are not going to change anytime soon," she added.

An information technician attached to the Ministry of Education, who requested anonymity, told the Express that aside from the damage being done to the devices, many of his colleagues had to deal with school officials who were reluctant to when it comes to learning and implementing the technology.

"Every day, 20 to 40 laptops are brought in because of some kind of damage, and while there is no cost attached to fixing it (as the Ministry has a lifetime warranty from HP), the plan should have been better thought out," he said.

"Don't get me wrong, some schools are using these laptops to the full extent, but there are many more that are not," the source added.

At a media briefing last week, Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh said they are working on implementing a better approach for the second batch of laptops.

"We are working with the University of the West Indies and the University of Trinidad and Tobago to implement a more sustained and improved training programme," he said.

Additionally, he said that "a significant part of the curriculum in a number of subjects have already been infused with information and communications technology", while all 152 schools have Internet connectivity. In fact, Graeme Suite, Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago manager of media relations and corporate communications, said broadband Internet has been provided to all 132 public secondary schools.

Nevertheless, Gopeesingh said they were "establishing a digital portal" so that pupils could access the curriculum online.