Today, we offer an unqualified salute to the principals of our 22 public secondary schools. In yesterday’s edition we published a story outlining an initiative by the principals to replace textbooks with e-readers.
The decision is sensible and can have far-reaching benefits for our children, the education system and our public finances. And while the move did not originate at the Elsie Payne Complex on Constitution Road, we believe that kudos to Minister of Education Ronald Jones are in order since we are reasonably sure that if the principals did not believe the idea would fly with their seniors, they would not have invested all the time and energy they have so far.
It would be fair to say that Minister Jones has not hidden the fact that he is a strong supporter of the use of the latest technology in the classroom, and has indicated to us his support for the initiative.
We recognise that some in our community will instantly panic when they hear the word computer mentioned in the same breath as school children, but we honestly believe there is no need to be overly worried.
In terms of access to the system by the children, this can be as deep or as shallow as the system managers determine; and on the issue of damage or loss, today’s tablets are designed to operate in some of the harshest conditions, and there is insurance available for just about any eventuality
But more importantly, there is no reason why a tablet/e-reader can’t last a child for the five or six years of his or her secondary school life, and in any event, given the prices of these devices, in some instances the cost of the books issued to our children each year could cover the purchase of two or three e-readers.
We are also reasonably sure that our principals have long worked out that the books being issued today don’t last as long as those of past years — and we hardly think many books today will last five years, particularly given the fact that so many of our children don’t treat them in a manner which says they recognise their true worth — resulting in significant annual replenishment bills. We are told as much as $80,000 in some years for a single school.
We have a duty to implement reasonable and sensible schemes that will help us to manage our scarce financial resources, and our principals are demonstrating that they are prepared to take the bull by the horns — it is an approach that many more of our public sector managers would do well to emulate.
In case we have not made it clear up front, we will restate it: We are particularly moved by the fact that this initiative has been conceived and fashioned by the principals, who could easily have said that the Textbook Loan Scheme was implemented by the Government and it is the Government to make any changes.
Fortunately, they have recognised something many of us seem not to understand — in the final analysis, the Government is not the 30 individuals who sit in the House of Assembly or the 16-odd who meet at Government Headquarters on Bay Street every Thursday. It’s the thousands of men and women who we refer to as public servants.
In Barbados, thanks to the out-of-the-box thinking of our secondary school principals, we have an opportunity to once again stand proudly at the pinnacle of education in the region — not paralysed by fear of what could go wrong when we invest in technology for our youth whose inquisitive nature invariably leads them to travel farther than we expected [perhaps farther than the minds of their parents can envisage], but intrigued by the possibilities that could be uncovered as they travel forward.
We invite Barbadians not to dwell on any flaws than might arise in the execution, after all, it is being put together by humans, but to be part of a change process that may turn out to be just what the doctor ordered for our children.