KINGSTON — The Ministry of Education has partnered with Research In Motion (RIM), the technology company behind the Blackberry product line, to provide some 20,000 teachers throughout the island's school system with Blackberry Smartphones.
The initiative is aimed at improving communication and increasing technology awareness and availability among educators. The Canadian High Commission is providing support in the undertaking, which should come into effect for the new academic year that starts September.
Portfolio Minister, Hon. Andrew Holness, speaking at a press conference at his National Heroes Circle offices on Thursday August 4, said the project promises significant benefits in terms of the transmission and sharing of information, but most importantly, will allow for the effective and increased use of technology among teachers.
He argued that in the near future information that would normally be stored in textbooks will be made available via mobile phone or tablet device and it is therefore important that Jamaican educators are aware of and make use of the technology available.
"If we are ever to close the development divide, technology will be one of the areas in which we will have to lead from, so Jamaica is making that investment early,” he stated.
He noted that Government is seeking to consolidate its thrust for the integration of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in education, and in the bid to rationalise all service provisions, the E-learning company has been moved under the Ministry’s jurisdiction. “That’s a fundamental and strategic move as already, under the E-learning (project), significant resources have been spent in training teachers in ICT,” he stated.
Under the partnership with RIM, the company will be making two of its newest technologies available to teachers – the Blackberry Mobile Voice System, which will reduce costs by having one phone extension for multiple numbers; and the Blackberry Pushcast to enable distribution of content such as PowerPoint presentations, videos, or audio files.
Users will benefit from closed user group (CUG) service, whereby calls between the teaching population and the Ministry will be free of cost; instant messaging with other smart phone users; and panic button for automatic calls to the police, fire department, and other emergency services.
Director, Management Information Services (MIS) in the Ministry, Debon Panton informed that the Ministry is in the process of reviewing proposals from the three major cell phone carriers in Jamaica to provide the service.
He said that project will last for two years initially and may be extended following a review of the programme. New devices will be issued at the end of the two years. He said that the possibility of teachers using the smartphones to input grades and attendance data into the Ministry’s database management system is being looked at.
RIM’s Director for the Caribbean Region, Mariano Sanchez, said the partnership with the Ministry of Education should help to create an improved environment for mobile information access to groups of both teachers and administrators.
He noted that the Ministry of Education is one of the first government entities to implement the complete set of Blackberry Enterprise technology available to create secure mobile data access, enabling unified communications and push content for educational purposes.
Secretary General, Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), Dr. Adolph Cameron, said the organisation is pleased to endorse and participate in the programme, noting that teachers will be better able to share information and best practices.
By ATHALIAH REYNOLDS, JIS Reporter