Computerisation of schools in Barbados already yielding results - consultant
Says Guyana can learn from this project

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
May 20, 2001

The pilot project in Information Technology (IT) for primary schools in Guyana stands to benefit from the processes Barbados and Jamaica have gone through, Barbadian Education and Information Technology Consultant with CCS (Barbados) Inc, Stephen Boyce, said.

Boyce, who is currently conducting a three-week training programme with teachers from the four schools involved with the local pilot project launched on Monday, said in an interview with Stabroek News that the pilot coming at this time was opportune for Guyana to learn from the mistakes of the others.

The primary schools involved in the pilot are Kitty Primary also known as Rama Krishna in Georgetown, Anna Regina on the Essequibo Coast, St Aloysius in New Amsterdam and St Aidan's in Linden.

Barbadian education and information technology consultant Stephen Boyce with teachers involved in the local pilot project at the Rama Krishna Primary. (Photo by Aubrey Crawford)

Boyce felt that one of the main constraints to the local project would be the ratio of computers to students in the pilot "but that will also depend on how the pilot is executed."

The timing of the launching of the project - during the last term - might also not have been ideal as students would soon be breaking for the August holidays. Nevertheless, he said, it was important to start and get more teachers on board.

Boyce, who worked on the Barbados and Jamaica pilot projects, said that following the success of the Barbados pilot project the Barbadian government secured US$200 million funding from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to computerise the entire school system over a seven-year period. The pilot project was carried out at St Mary's Primary in Bridgetown during the 1997/1998 academic year.

According to Boyce, the combined loan from the CDB and the IDB, represented the largest loan ever made to a country the size of Barbados for an education project.

Though the objective of the Education Tech Enhancement Programme was to computerise the schools countrywide, more than half of the funds have gone into the civil works aspect. Most schools had to be rebuilt, rehabilitated or renovated to accommodate the new technology. In most cases the Barbados government, he said, spent between US$.5 million to US$1 million to refurbish a school to ensure the facilities were in place to accommodate the new technology. Apart from the civil works aspect, he said, another "royal sum was set aside for training".

Another objective of programme was to reform the curriculum for the country's education system with new attainment targets.

The programme started with 15 primary and secondary schools in the first year, after which between 20 and 22 schools will be introduced in subsequent years. Barbados has 84 primary and 23 secondary schools, which include private institutions, and a number of specialist or pre-vocational schools. The project covers them all.

Currently, the first year of the project is underway. Computer systems are already in place in the schools. From the 15 schools, two primary schools and one secondary, will benefit from a wireless connection which is being provided by CCS (Barbados) in collaboration with Net School of Atlanta, USA. The Net School programme looks at wireless technology, which allows each child in the school system to obtain a sturdy lap top, which they take home. The students can use these computers to access the school system via a remote access server.

The Net School programme, which has already been launched at Sharon Primary in St Thomas, a "slightly" rural school, has been successful so far, Boyce said. It was part of the ministry's overall programme, of not only putting technology in the schools, but taking the technology and school to the community. At Sharon's Primary, teachers are already using the technology, integrating it into the overall programme. In addition access to the Internet has been provided. Net School has correlated some 50,000 net sites for use in the Barbados curriculum so teachers could easily obtain information that is level and subject specific.

In terms of implementation and training, the Barbados Ministry of Education has designated a core team consisting of the principal, curriculum coordinator and information technology coordinator of a school to build the school's Information Technology Implementation Plan (ITIP). These persons were given two school terms leave to be trained in IT skills, change management, and leadership for IT. During that period, they will begin to develop the ITIP so on returning to the school system they may begin the implementation plan. They will also be expected to train other teachers coming on board, using the train-the-trainer model.

Each teacher in the system will eventually undergo two levels of training -- basic computer skills and the teaching methodology component. Others, who are keen, will go on to do software development, which is one of the main goals of the ministry to get indigenous software produced by Barbadian teachers for Barbadian students.

Boyce said that CCS (Barbados) itself invested US$100,000 in the project. This was to meet expenses for infrastructure -- 14 computers and server and salary for a full-time consultant --for the one-year duration of the pilot project.

The pilot project involved the training of teachers, followed by the use of integrated learning systems -- the CCC SuccessMaker used by students seven to 11 years old for reading and numeracy. While some classes had two sessions each week, the real test group had a session every day of the CCC SuccessMaker plus a skills training session. The real pilot group consisted of 96 students - 48 boys and 48 girls. Their progress in terms of where they started in academic ability, numeracy and literacy and where they were at the end of one year was monitored.

The results, he said, "were amazing". Apart from individualised attention, the teachers had the tool to better analyse students' performance, strengths and weaknesses. As a result, most students made the projected gains in reading and mathematics by the end of the research period. Some children, too, who were about to write the Secondary Schools Entrance Examinations, by using the technology, were able to determine their own individual problems and teachers were able to help the weaker students strengthen their scores. This enabled St Mary's to move from a ranking of 56 out of 77 primary schools at the start of the programme to 33 at the end of one year.

Teachers, he said, not only used the analytical tools presented by the software but also used productivity tools found in Microsoft Office so the standard of test papers was improved. They used desk-top publishing facilities to create teaching aids and they went on the Internet to start creating thematic units for use right across the school system. So the quality of work coming from the teachers was much higher than what they started with. Some teachers who were sceptical about the entire programme became the biggest advocates of it at the end, he said, adding that some took a while longer than others but it was a journey they had to undertake.

As regards implementation, Boyce noted that the differences between Guyana and Jamaica and Barbados in terms of geography and the size of the education system. He said that it would be easier to computerise all the schools in Barbados because there were only 100-odd schools, flat terrain and the distance between the two most remote schools was not more than an hour so that facilities, infrastructure and technical support could be easily obtained. In contrast, Guyana has about 800 schools and Jamaica some 1,000.

The question of classroom size is also another factor. In Barbados, class size is controlled at 30 to 35 students in the secondary system, but in Jamaica because of overcrowding it was somewhere between 45 and 50. In Guyana, it is about the same.

In Barbados there are 30 station labs, which is ideal for teaching and learning. In addition, six computers have been placed in each classroom for classroom exercises. In Guyana and Jamaica logistical problems could be anticipated when there were only 15 computers and a class size of 50 or 60.