By Yvonne Reynolds,

I learned this old adage or aphorism as a child – more years ago than I care to remember. I still chuckle to remember our childishly naive oral substitution of “knows not” to nose nought (snot) using a slow smug sing song drawl expressing derision. As an adult this proverb is used as a wake up call to children who for one reason or another need its philosophical jolt.

Welcome to the New Education World

The twenty-first century heralded the blooming of an Information Age where information and communications technology (ICT) flowers, firmly rooted in binary digits (0,1). “The onset of the Information Age is associated with the Digital Revolution, just as the Industrial Revolution marked the onset of the Industrial Age.” (Wikipedia)  Mike Wadhera (2015) takes us even further along in the future by declaring this/now to the “Experience Age” – Thanks to mobile screens and Internet everywhere.”

In a world of digital technology, computer science is the new liberal art, with concepts as fundamental to learning as reading and mathematics.” Most (well paying) jobs incorporate some form of technology (2020 estimate of 900,000 in EU). Current students must be familiar with and capable of understanding and manipulating technologytools. E learningis here to stay and will only increase in penetration– worldwide. The World Bank is currently conducting a pilot project in developing countries using e-reader and e-book reading devices within a number of education projects.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s decisionto equip the schools of Antigua and Barbuda with these emerging education technologies that demanded a social restructuring befitting the Information Age, was a forward thinking one. Planning and implementing e-learning in all island(s)-wide schools, require conducting a comprehensive, orderly process of project steps to ensure success for all stakeholders – students, teachers, school administration (public/private), education bureaucracy, parents, cabinet ministers, the prime minister, businesses, taxpayers – in other words all the citizens and residents comprising the society must be satisfied. 

The What, How and Why of ebooks and elearning

According to A.M. Embrong et.al. (2012)There are three basic components of e-Books: the hardware(reader), the software, and the e-Book files”. The hardwareis simply the portable electronic device which facilitates reading the written word (content), and is also capable of “printing, audio-visual, interactive touch, and wireless communications.” The softwareis the reader programs which display the written word (curriculum content data). Filescome in various types (.html, .txt, .doc, .pdf) telling the operating system how to display the content.

Electronic learning requires an institutionalization of Learning Management Systems (LMS).E-leaningbegan in higher education but has now reached down into the lower education school system (K-12/primary/secondary). It is purposed to expand the digital space for teaching options and delivery. It promises the enhancement of teaching and learning, via the internet, with greater access to knowledge content, communication and diverse interactivity. It is hailed as an invaluable, innovative, teacher-assistant, supporting the range of capabilities found in today’s classrooms. It purports to engage personalized, independent student learning and be the substitute teacher when necessary.

For such a momentous game changing decision which will affect countless lives, huge financial outlays are required. Governments have to be committed to proper planning and implementation. The biggest mistake that can be made is to forego the RFP(request for proposal) or tendering process (John Leh, 2014). As a former LMS salesman, he forewarns, in a well worth reading blogpost, – caveat emptor (buyer beware). RFPs help buyers (governments) “get organized, formalize requirements, evaluate vendors logically, create a historical record and show vendors you are serious. Shopping without an RFP may seem faster, easier and less complex, but your selection process will be subjective and loaded with assumptions that increase risk”.BUYER BEWARE!!!

Many studies have explored the decision factors involved in the use of computers in classrooms and their effect on student learning. “The most important problems schools have with computers are: lack of financial resources (to buy enough computers; up-to-date computers; enough printers and other peripherals; licenses for good software; technical support) the inability of teachers to know how

An article published in The Hechinger Reportentitled, Laptops, Chromebooks or tablets? Deciding what’s best for the nation’s schools,further noted,

When school districts buy laptops for students to use in the classroom, the cost doesn’t stop at the price per device. There’s the cost of the warranty, professional development for teachers to learn how to incorporate the devices into their lesson plans and troubleshoot tech problems, repairs for inevitable damages and the price of software those laptops run

The three tables/graph below are informative on the factors that go into the budget decision making process when choosing the most suitable LMS.

LMS License Models: What in the World is Going On? – Talented Learning

https://talentedlearning.com/lms-license-models-what-in-the-world-is-going-on/

LMS License Models: What in the World is Going On? – Talented Learning

https://talentedlearning.com/lms-license-models-what-in-the-world-is-going-on/#prettyPhoto


Product
Free Version Starting Price Frequency Per User Price Details  
EasyCampus $99 Monthly No Three paid tiers (Standard, Preferred and Premium)
Easygenerator $39 Monthly Yes  
OttoLearn Microlearning $100 Monthly No See our Plans page https://www.ottolearn.com/plans
Prosperity $295 Monthly No Per user and student activity-based options to best fit your needs
RCampus $2 Monthly Yes https://www.rcampus.com/ecomm/subscriptionalllistc.cfm
TalentLMS $29 Monthly No  
uQualio $49 Monthly No Subscriptions: Starter, Basic, Pro, Business and Performance – 1 and 3 Mo.

Learning Management System Software Pricing Guide

https://www.capterra.com/learning-management-system-software/pricing-guide

Moore’s Law (observation by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore) tells us that transistors on a chip doubles every year as the costs are halved.” (Investopedia) In every day language this means that every year, computers and machines which use computing power become exponentially faster, cheaper and smaller (costs about 30% less). Choosing the right license model and vendor is critical to budget and user productivity factors (features, functions, support services). There are several websitesto assist the diligent researcher looking for the most effective and efficient dealand to explore the trends.of the future.

A.M. Embrong et.al. (2012)research details the pros and cons of ebooks for students, teachers, administrators and parents. Benefits include the physical, academic, psychological, managerial, assessment tracking, and economics. [It reduces student load, increases creativity and engagement, monitors student achievements, and increases the shelf life of knowledge content via decreased need for textbook replacement]. Liabilities include hardware limitations, classroom inadequacies (power outlets/adequate internet access), deficit supplies of ebooks, negative student attitudes, note-making limitations, strict digital rights management, and inadequately trained teachers.

They emphasize the several collaborative aspects of this endeavour, – between teachers, administrators and technology staff; the need for a sufficient supply of quality technology specialists to maintain and repair the hardware and software; the inclusion of informed parents in the process; the training of students on how to care for the product; and, providing the right modifications for children with special needs. They highlight the crucial pre-requisite of having teachers who have the necessary knowledge and skills about e-books’ learning techniques, and, access to available quality materials.

Reality Meets (and Defeats) Implementation

Articles published in the Antigua Observer as well as my memory, are used to highlight the many flashing red light warnings contained in the implementation of the e learning/e book project, “the Antigua & Barbuda Common Digital Education” under the current government. Never forget that the project’s stated aim is to cut costs. A brief chronology follows:

February 12, 2016–  Roll out of phase 1 September 2016 in five secondary schools with 6,000 participating students, forms 1-5, using the services of “FortunaPix- a specialized software company from India; which studied the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) and the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) systems and the textbooks that support the class lessons.”

February 18, 2016 GATE out … ABCDE in – Questions raised about the efficacy of the RFP process, impact on local jobs, re-invention of the wheel vis a vis “government continuity”, and, inferences of fraud, waste and abuse.

February 6, 2017– First school chosen for February 20 receipt of e books.

February 23, 2017– Questions about curriculum content alignment to CXC standards and FortunaPix’s capacity and capability

February 24, 2017– Questions raised again about the quality and alignment of content on the ebooks, the wisdom of scrapping the pilot and the need for comprehensive, quality teacher training.

March 16, 2017 – The parents weigh in

June 8, 2017– Parents asked to pay for damaged ebooks which according to many students were never/sparsely used in the classroom

June 10, 2017– Editorial on the damaged ebooks, the historical backstory of ebooks’ introduction into Antigua, and lamentations on the deafening silence of the current administration to lack of planning considerations

May 11, 2018– Dire warnings from the teachers union (A&BUT) about the impending “colossal failure” of the ebooks project.

May 28, 2018– Over a year after roll-out the review of curriculum content knowledge has yet to be completed (September projected date)

January 30 2019– Do the Right Thing call to the prime minister

January 30, 2019– Calls for immediate resignation of Minister of Education, Michael Browne

February 1, 2019– Editorial on MP Michael Brown – Minister of Miseducation

February 4, 2019– Director of Education says sorry

February 6, 2019– Editorial lamentations and resignation on bureaucratic intransigence

It is obvious that the policy planning phase and the RFP (tender) process was a disaster and the risk of great financial costs have been realized. I believe that we can still salvage some of the costs if the negotiators truly realize that they must understand the type of LMS model being offered by the vendor and comparatively figure out if it is better to just call the deal off, write-off the loss and begin again. We do not need one vendor to supply everything. It may be better to mix and match to maximize quality. Yes, mistakes were made but let us not drag the mistakes far into the future, affecting succeeding generations of students. We lose a generation for each year of graduates. It is never too late to turnaround.

The Director of Education, Clare Brown recently told the nation that they were just now going to be preparing the teachers on how to use the ebooks. The cart (ebook usage) is decidedly before the horse (teacher training). Compounded, like Noah and the ark, training will be done two-by-two. God help us – when will (quality) training be completed for all teachers!. Students are the biggest losers in this saga. Upcoming exam results will definitively show just how much has already been lost and will be lost in the learning process. Another generation will reap what education bureaucrats have sown. We cannot and must not lose them.

Planning for the Future

As an educator I am about the future and how to correct the problems of the present and past. As an adult it is my responsibility to find ways and passionately advocate for initiatives that ensure a brighter future for the children who depend on my acquired knowledge. I am not about casting blame, although I do believe in consequences. Please, let us limit the number of generations that will be negatively affected. Education choices’ failure is devastating on individuals, communities and national economies. Social pathologies thrive in failed education environments. Losers multiply and financial ecosystems/food webs decay when education systems fail.

The economy has lost potential local high skill jobs and the accompanying economic multipliers of backward and forward linkages. The country has lost another opportunity for facilitated entrepreneurship. (refer to dissolved award winningprior A&B public/private partnershipand compare current dependence on a foreign entity, FortunaPix, also review the employment stimulating Jamaican eLearning institution-e-LJam). We have lost an opportunity to nurture creative and critical thinking crucibles inside the country. Lets look on the bright side however, we can still reclaim them.

Dear politicians, you were elected to be good stewards. You are not expected to be experts on all matters or geniuses who know it all. In fact it is a positive trait to invite input. Failed states are run by leaders who don’t listen to advice. Leaders wrapped in the authoritarian cloak of “Father knows best”. Chaos is inevitable when leaders are obdurately selfish and narcissistic, with humility an unknown concept and impunity a steadfast expectation.

When I began writing about this matter I researched and gathered information about the current economy and socio-economic trends as well as expected revenues. I examined the financial costs of the project and the potential rewards. I reviewed the details on equipment and processes which would yield the greatest efficiences and impact. I changed the policy analysis (cost-benefit) angle of this piece after reading the newspaper articles, which you the reader should review for enlightenment on the issue. I also ask that you examine the tables and graphs and make your own conclusions regarding the next steps to be taken – for the children’s sake. Informed citizens maintain a prosperous democracy. [Reading the article by A.M. Embrong et.al. (2012)is encouraged]

I discovered in the newspaper articles, a civil society of good watchdogs with commendable analytical skills. They were not afraid to raise the hard questions that would help steer or redirect government planning in the right direction. For the citizens (indigenous or naturalized) and residents (CARICOM nationals, permanent or temporarily authorized, legal and illegal) of the twin islands, this is heartening. As a concerned resident and Caribbean regionalist, I am adding another earnest plea to the formal and informal ones. Now we need politicians who will just listen.

The Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of Education, received the largest budget allocation for two of the past three years (2017 & 2019), and the second largest in the third (2018). I conclude with one more graph which is germane to the future economic expectations and repercussions (budget allocations) pertaining to Antigua and Barbuda.

fredgraph.pdf

The author is an educationist (MPA, MSc-Education) and a passionate advocate for effective education policies and practices, especially as it affects K-12 students. I can be reached at conbelach15@gmail.com.  Other education articles may be read at conbelach.blogspot.com or conbelach.wordpress.com.