Reforming Jamaica’s Education System Using Social Media
Jamaica’s education system is in distress. In the past, Jamaica’s education system used to be hailed internationally for churning out top students. Although we still do, the general standard of education has fallen over the years. In the 90’s a fallout was created when both the UK and US created special programs to recruit our teachers and other professionals. This brain drain coupled with a change in society and home life has fueled our growing education problem. The government now has an even greater issue, in trying to clamp down on spending and to control the country’s debt, it is cutting down on tertiary tuition subsidies.
In the past ten years though the internet has proven how access to information can change lives entirely. What we need to do now is embrace the technology available to us to solve our issues. Back in 2002 or 2003 I submitted an idea to Cable and Wireless for an international competition they were hosting to find the next big idea, unfortunately I didn’t win, however I think it can still be used today. The idea was to create an online platform like Wikipedia to store information for Caribbean school syllabi. Why is this better than wikipedia? Because it is controlled and precise, the information would be relevant to the current syllabus in an easy to read form.
Since then I have attended university online and taken part in web-casts and online tutorials. What was available in 2002 is nothing compared to what is available today. Now information exchange is affordable. Cheap cameras allow every class/lecture to be recorded on the fly. The video can then be uploaded for students to watch again, or to prepare themselves for the next class. Wouldn’t it be easier to do your homework if you could re-watch math class from this morning? We could have the best teachers do video lessons, so every student can have the same access to the best of the best. The tutorials also don’t have to be location specific, members of the diaspora could contribute time to help create a lesson. Also thanks to the Caribbean Examinations Council, all students in the Caribbean follow the same syllabus, so create it for one country and it applies to the whole region.
Today’s generation is fully integrated online, after video lessons / online notes are created they can then be shared using class mailing lists, Facebook, Twitter or any other social network. Allowing students to discuss and share content using platforms they are used to and want to use. Content can be hosted using free course management system Moodle, which is already being used by NCU, UWI and UTech, as well as thousands of schools worldwide.
In Jamaica we have the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project. The project is aimed at integrating the XO laptop in our primary schools. The laptop is rugged, affordable and scalable. It is designed to be worked on (literally) by a young child (5-12) and the software is fully open source, with contributors all over the world. If the government and private sector would support a project to roll these out to primary schools it would totally change the way Jamaica learns. The laptops also network with each other, allowing a mesh network to be created to share information between students via wireless without the installation of expensive infrastructure. XO laptops also support Moodle right out of the box!
The fact is, if the government and private sector made an investment in technology and social media for education, we could greatly increase literacy rates and the quality of education overall. This investment would provide even greater returns if it was done as a regional effort. This is far greater than ensuring each school has a computer lab to learn word processing. Everyone would have the same access to information regardless of background or economic conditions. Tutorials can be shared online to give everyone access to the best teachers. The information is there for 24/7 access by anyone, making research and studying easier. Tertiary education costs could also be cut as some classes can be held entirely online, using material previously generated. The greatest gain from a project like this would be what we cannot imagine or measure now. The possibilities are endless.