By Latonya Linton
KINGSTON, Jamaica, (JIS) – The ministry of education, youth and information, on Thursday, October 29, officially launched its ‘One Laptop or Tablet Per Child’ initiative, which is designed to promote inclusivity in the education sector.
It aims to provide needy students with the requisite tools to function in the online teaching and learning environment. This includes ensuring equity in access to information and communications technology (ICT) – based learning.
The government is currently providing an estimated 148,000 students on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) with devices. However, an additional estimated 100,000 students still require laptops or tablets to effectively participate in electronic learning. These students are not on PATH but are considered needy and vulnerable.
The profiles of the targeted beneficiaries are as follows: 600 special needs students, 94,900 students (not on PATH), and 4,500 students in State care/homes. The estimated cost to provide laptops and tablets is $4.5 billion.
In her address at the virtual launch, portfolio minister, Fayval Williams, said it is important to eliminate the digital divide in Jamaica.
“Eliminating that divide begins by the government and the private sector coming together as we are doing here today to put a laptop or a tablet in the hands of every Jamaican child, especially those families near or below the poverty level, whether they are in rural Jamaica or in our urban centres,” the minister said. “Obviously, we know it is not just the tablets or laptops, it is the connectivity, and it’s the affordability. It is the educational content that teachers direct to students [and] it is the technical support that the students will have if there is a problem with the device or the software,” she said.
Williams further said that at the end of this effort, “what we will want to see is improvement in the educational outcomes. We want to see better test scores, we want higher levels of certification of our members in our workforce, we want to see more of our students better prepared as they leave primary schools to enter secondary schools and we want to see more of our students matriculate to tertiary institutions,” she added. “Participating in the initiative, it is an investment in the future of Jamaica.”
President of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), Jasford Gabriel, said the JTA fully endorses the ‘One Laptop or Tablet’ initiative of the ministry of education, youth and information and the National Education Trust (NET).
“The JTA, despite being a non-profit organisation, pledges $1 million to this drive in supporting a device for every child, a confirmation that we are in the fight to defeat the digital divide that exists across the land,” Gabriel said.
He further called on Jamaicans locally and in the diaspora to “rally around this noble cause”.
For his part, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), Keith Duncan, said the initiative is important to the future of the nation’s children.
“We need to ensure that our children are engaged and are able to receive the highest quality of education possible under the circumstances and that we all close this digital divide,” he added.
He also encouraged every member of the PSOJ to help the Ministry meet its demand by donating towards the purchase of the devices.
“My wife and I are committing $1 million personally to this initiative, and the National Commercial Bank (NCB) Foundation has kicked us off with $50 million. Through the JMMB Joan Duncan Foundation we are committing $10 million towards this cause also,” Duncan said.
Meanwhile, chairperson for the NCB Foundation, Thalia Lyn, said the $50 million will assist in the donation of approximately 1,400 devices to students attending not only “our 35 adopted primary schools but children with specific needs”.
She added that the NCB Foundation is also supporting the PSOJ by developing a donation portal to facilitate corporate and individual donations locally and globally.
Other participating stakeholders include Sandals Foundation, Seprod Foundation and the Guardian Life Limited and Guardian Group Foundation.
Persons interested in making monetary donations may do so through the Jamaica Social Stock Exchange at jamaicastockex.com and click “One Laptop or Tablet Per Child Initiative”.
For overseas donors sending devices, they should use the guidelines for donating through NET. This will ensure that waivers are applied once the devices arrive in Jamaica. The Guidelines can be reviewed at http://www.net.org.jm/resource.