Coming of age with computers By Donald Sinclair
Guyana Chronicle
July 1, 2002

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THERE was a time in Guyana, and not so long ago it seems, when computer technology was the preserve of a small and proud elite. The users of that technology felt a smug superiority over their less advanced colleagues who still sat banging away at noisy typewriters, or who moved through dusty registries piled high with mountains of paper. Communication for the less advanced meant writing by hand, typing by typewriter, correcting with correcting fluid, altering by typewriter again for dispatch by post or, if lucky, by fax transmission.

Not so long ago, the few who possessed or had mastered what seemed to be a mysterious and esoteric skill breezily corrected and dispatched letters with a few touches of the finger on a keyboard. While others trudged to libraries or ordered books through the mail, the elite sat before their computers and found a vast sea of information at their disposal. Then came their conversation, full of the vocabulary of a new cyber world - downloading, scanning, chatting, surfing, passwords, accounts, e-mailing and websites tripped off their tongues like the mantras of an exclusive new secret society.

The unwired crowd, who boasted no other address than their home address, felt shut out of this world. In those early, heady days of the dawn of the Internet in Guyana, society folded into two classes - those who were connected and those who were not. Simple. Today the landscape has changed drastically, and a communication revolution has been ushered in.

Many offices have become quieter, less congested environments - the gentler pecking sounds of the computer keyboard replacing the raucous, staccato bursts of the Remington typewriters. Many a dusty registry, stacked with ancient files of perishable paper, has given way to small desktops, which yield information at the briefest of prompts. In addition, a vast network of Internet cafes and personal computers now serve to link a global population through the agency of Internet service providers. The technology is now no longer the preserve of an elite. Wider access to computers in schools, offices and communities has leveled the field considerably. This development is of far-reaching importance to education in Guyana, but there are obvious concerns.

Given the ease with which students can now access information on any topic under the sun, some educators worry about the integrity of studentsí assignments. At university level bulky research papers are being produced in a prodigiously short space of time by otherwise weak students, raising suspicions as to the true authorship of such assignments. A recent meeting of CXC examiners expressed alarm at that development. The other revolutionary implication of the new technology is that it could make schooling itself obsolete. The technology is here. Let it be the servant and us the masters.