It is a painfully unnerving exercise to witness knee-jerk opposition to change among leaders who purport to represent their members’ interests.
Whether it is taxi drivers in an uproar against Uber, hoteliers in a huff over Airbnb, and auto mechanics moaning against electric vehicles, Barbadians are not alone in being discombobulated by change brought on especially by technology.
But what seems almost uniquely ours is the certain conviction that somehow, as an island unto ourselves, mere opposition to change will stop the world from turning.
The latest is the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union’s blanket instruction to teachers not to sign in and thus enter data into openEMIS, the new educational management information system.
Understand what all this means for our knowledge of our children in the education system. OpenEMIS creates a digital paper-trail on each student who enters a school in Barbados and follows them through their entire journey through school.
For the first time, a complete, traceable record of a child’s identity, conduct, academic performance and achievements follows each child from the beginning of elementary to the end of secondary education.
The enormous potential to discern learning styles and abilities and diagnose learning difficulties and gaps cannot be overstated.
This data-gathering will become critical especially now that the Ministry of Education seeks to abandon one-time, all-or-nothing summative assessment – the common entrance exam – in favour of formative assessment where continuous measurement and tracking could put children on a path to learning that is more tailor-made to their needs – and effective.
Naturally, software alone is not the only solution. We must be vigilant to ensure that the diagnostic work, early interventions, remedial work, learning resources and improved classroom techniques replace the orally-administered, take-it-or-leave-it, chalk-and-talk approach to pedagogy that our education system clutches on to.
We must see to it that parents, teachers, principals, the Ministry of Education and indeed student-leaders work to pry loose the cold, dead hands of the Victorian colonial era from Barbadian education once and for all if we are to create a nation of young learners anything resembling the vision of Prime Minister Mottley.
For Government, openEMIS is open-source software that can be engineered to deliver uniquely Barbadian data needs. Gone are the days when proprietors of proprietary software can portray open-source software as some cyber bogeyman, easily vulnerable to hackers and malware.
OpenEMIS will help the Ministry of Education to count and collect information on every student, provide it with key performance indicators and measure the performance of policy by providing data to help the ministry make decisions from book purchases to personnel movements.
And, if our nation’s parents so desire, and we believe they should, it would eventually be possible for the ministry to provide parents with unique login credentials so they can eventually track their child’s performance.
From our investigation, we are satisfied that openEMIS is not some flash-in-the-pan episode of instant policy designed to make a software company rich. This initiative, which was developed by the United Nations education agency, UNESCO, is now gaining momentum, starting with Belize, now Barbados, and ultimately Turks and Caicos Islands, Grenada, Aruba, and St Maarten, among others in the region.
In Belize, where openEMIS has already been introduced, Jon Kapp, the head of the non-profit Community Systems Foundation (CSF) that set up the software said: “What you would get, then, is a comprehensive record of participation in each school year like classes they took; aids or outcomes they got in each class; classifying their language abilities; their disabilities, if the student moves from one school to the next.
“Their record goes with them so it’s not a broken chain but the link that exists is very clear. It allows that student to very much build off their transcripts from primary school to secondary school and of course, it allows the schools to be more efficient.
“Can you imagine the new school year with new students coming in (and) the headteacher or administrator will review the record of that student and understand what kind of special needs they may have? Special gifts that they may have (that) allows that student to be more tailored for the education experience.”
Replacing an attendance register, notebooks, reports, individual files and letters with a digital device and data is to end a futile paper trail to discover where a child’s learning and behavioural development path may have gone askew and may yet be righted.
Now, who wouldn’t want that?