Telephone expansion will facilitate distance learning

Consumer Concerns By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
September 17, 2000

'Distance learning on your doorstep. New centres open across T&T.' The Trinidad Guardian, on August 22, carried a feature article on this new development and the establishment of a Ministry of Training and Distance Learning.

Trinidad has leaped ahead. Guyana remains in the backwater. Can we really conceive what it will mean to have education taken to all those Amerindian communities and rural villages where children are bored to death because of the lack of opportunities to develop their skills? Where they complain of no secondary education or of the cost of travelling to the towns where such education is provided?

Distance learning, as I picture it, is a one-to-one situation. The student sits down in front of the computer and the teacher demonstrates on his blackboard. With their aptitude to handle the computer and with their interest in playing around with it, I would think that there would be no boredom, no lack of attention, no sleepiness when the lessons are being delivered. Not only the student, but others in the home will be exposed to this new style of education.

Distance learning is not a new thing. There has been distance learning by means of correspondence. Many of us have learnt from Wolsey Hall and others. Distance learning may be by means of the radio. But the computer belongs to the youths of today. They excel at it, they play games on it and with a computer in the home, they teach themselves all the tricks. We, the adults, depend on them to solve the problems we encounter.

We already have cafés or centres, where persons, for a fee, can explore websites and play around with the knowledge that is there waiting for explorers. But distance learning is something else and needs specially trained teachers and computers in centres and in homes.

I have heard that Jamaica also has introduced distance learning. In Guyana we, the consumers, have to express our concern. As one of the CARICOM territories we must not allow ourselves to be left so far behind that we can never catch up with the new technology. If we continue to allow the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) to determine development in our telecommunication industry, we will never catch up. Foreign investors in public utilities are concerned chiefly with profits, not with the welfare of consumers.

How will distance learning be taken to the communities that are languishing? GT&T appears to have little interest in an expansion programme that would help thousands of small people. Its concern is to provide cellular phones, caller identification, call waiting, and such modern technology, to the rich. We need the expansion programme to be in full swing now so that we may not be left too far behind our brothers and sisters in CARICOM.

Naturally our size is an obstacle, but where there is a will there is a way and local entrepreneurs will find the way for us. Give them the right to operate now and give our youth the right to develop as they should.

It is not only basic education that distance learning will or can supply. In Trinidad a private provider, Roytec, has enlisted persons studying for a Bachelor's Degree in Education from the University of New Brunswick, Canada. The course is expensive but less costly than a full university education.

If you spend a few minutes thinking of all the subjects that can be taught by use of a computer your mind would boggle. For instance - languages. There is an urgent need for us to become acquainted with the languages spoken by our neighbours - Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French. With a highway to Brazil, there will be an influx of Brazilians, there will be business opportunities and, naturally, the need to know the language will be there. Let us push together, for the development of telecommunications in our hinterland, in our villages, towns and even in our capital city.

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