Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM), Hon. Phillip Paulwell, has said that the Government is committed to providing Jamaicans with access to information communication technology (ICT) as tool for development.
As part of the effort, the Ministry is partnering with the Education Ministry to grant access to thousands of students across the island.
“We are trying to create a far more inquisitive and enquiring mind; somebody who can use the information that is so ubiquitous to enable growth and development for him or herself but more importantly, for our country,” he stated.
The Minister was addressing the launch of the partnership between the Jamaica Observer and social learning website EduFocal Limited on Thursday, which will expand access to the website for thousands of students at primary and secondary schools across Jamaica preparing for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) and the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination.
According to the Minister, Government’s preoccupation with getting Jamaica to become part of the information age, through liberalization of the telecommunications sector, was about more than getting people to talk.
“It is identifying that we here have certain abilities. We are extremely creative, and once we put our minds to solving problems, we can indeed come up with those answers,” he contended.
“We are determined to enable Jamaicans to have access because that is the critical issue here. We want to ensure that in every nook and cranny, what (the Observer and EduFocal) are doing can be reached; and that is why we are fixed on enabling broadband, whether through wireless or fixed mean, to be available throughout Jamaica,” Mr. Paulwell stressed.
Launched a little over 10 months ago by 22-year old Gordon Swaby, the EduFocal website incorporates gaming elements in learning to assist students. There are incentives for students logging onto the site and doing the exercises, with a $30,000 scholarship for the top scorer, while there are smaller prizes of cell phone credit, food vouchers and movie tickets.
Education Minister, Rev. the Hon. Ronald Thwaites, said the method of learning offered by EduFocal emphasizes not only competition, but critical thinking, while de-emphasizing “the memorization that has cramped the human development associated with education for a long time”.
“We have a tool, a uniquely local tool and an adaptable one, which can move us beyond the mediocrity of our educational outcome at this time,” he said.
Noting that the Government was examining the best way to make tablet computers available to students across Jamaica, Minister Thwaites said the success of EduFocal will “give us a good inkling as to what that can be”.
He raised the possibility of EduFocal expanding, over time, beyond the examination matrix and opening up to other areas of inquiry. The Education Minister also encouraged the company to consider how persons, soon to be enrolled in the alternate high school diploma programme, can benefit from the site.
The collaboration between EduFocal and the Jamaica Observer will see students being able to access the website for free with the purchase of a Sunday Observer. The paper will contain a code granting them access for a week and is particularly important for those who do not have access to a credit card but want to use the site. Additionally, the site will be hosting The Observer’s GSAT and CSEC Study Centre material, thereby expanding the content.
Mr. Swaby stated that the learning website is the first tool of its kind created for students at the primary and secondary level in the Caribbean.
“EduFocal is created from a student’s perspective…how a student would want a service to practise for the exam and not how a teacher would want his or her students to practise for the examination,” he explained.
He noted that students love the competitive nature of the site and spend an average of 18 minutes on it. The content is prepared by teachers who are ranked, based on popularity.
Deputy Chairman and CEO of the Jamaica Observer Ltd, Adam Stewart, was complimentary of the EduFocal programme. “What is cool about this programme is the dynamics and newness of how this is being done, as this is totally untraditional and is quite inspiring.”
He noted that if Jamaica is going to have a bright future, the more educated the population becomes, the better it will be.