Nettleford’s message on learning

by Rickey Singh
Barbados Nation
March 17, 2000

FOR THOSE who have become so overwhelmed and dependent on that amazing communications instrument, the computer, they would find instructive what the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor Rex Nettleford had to say when he addressed a Cable & Wireless-sponsored event here in Barbados. Seemingly always energised by intellectual activity and events that inspire the creative imagination of Caribbean people, Nettleford, undoubtedly one of the finest advocates of our Caribbean identity and culture, spoke at the Cable and Wireless forum on: Educational Technology and the Tyranny of Distance, to reveal some of his own thinking on the importance of the Internet to education in this region.

Focusing on what he perceives as the inescapable engagement between education and technology, Nettleford contends that the entire educational system, so vital to the growth and development and to any hope of achievement of the “decency of civil society in our region”, must take on board the challenges of the communications technology of which the Internet is, as he said, “a central and iconic dimension”.

Making effective use of communications technology to bring bodies of knowledge in record time to the consciousness of millions in far-flung climes, facilitating the outcome of cross-fertilisation and, above all, overcoming “the tyranny of distance”, is a challenge from which the region cannot escape and one that the UWI is fully committed to engage.

As he reflected on how the growth of communications technology has transformed programmes of the UWI itself, Nettleford also had a very important reminder: Access to information, as is the undoubted and welcome case of Internet and Web sites, does not necessarily mean “access to education” in the interactive, creative, mind-developing sense.

And at a period of the “CNN-isation of the Caribbean”, it is very relevant to note the distinction between “computer-assisted learning” and not on “computer”, the emphasis being on “assisted”.

Consequently, the use of the technology becomes an important factor in the push towards the greater use of educational technology, of whatever kind, to prepare, what Nettleford considers, the “well-rounded, integrated and textured West Indian” who will be needed for grappling with the unruly phenomenon of the 21st century.

After all, as he was to remind his audience, the finest computer ever invented, is clearly the one that itself invented the computer, the intelligence that could itself conceive of artificial intelligence, or what another outstanding West Indian scholar, Sir Roy Augier, has described as “the kingdom of the mind”.

Even as we applaud this piece of educational technology, it is useful to keep in mind that, as Nettleford said, the landscape of the “kingdom of the mind” carries with it much storage-space and a marvellous retrieval mechanism that is linked to the instant interpretation of data being retrieved depending on the triggering context that prompts the retrieval.

Nothing should therefore be done to undervalue or have that mind lay fallow, waiting on hardware technology operating outside the innate intelligence of the human being. On the other hand, anything that can enhance the sharpness and operational alacrity of that intelligence should be grasped, further developed and exploited in the interest of personal and collective development.