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eGovernment Agency’s IDEAL project advancing ICT in education sector

THE theme for Education Month 2016 centred on the advancement of education; and in this technological age, the best advancement in this regard lies in the area of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).President Granger has spoken of his wish to see Guyana transformed into an “Education nation” — a nation in which each child is able to get to school, and has access to the highest quality of education available.ad-2

Additionally, every child must be provided with the resources which would allow that child to gain quality education and achieve its highest level possible. The President believes that education holds the key to the country’s overall development, as educating the children means educating the future.

During an address to residents and students at the commissioning of the 10th school bus in Coomacka, Upper Demerara-Berbice (Region 10), donated under the Five Bs Initiative in June, the President said that education is the best investment Governments can make in preparation for future development of any nation.

“If you want to be something in life, you have to be educated; and the least I could do is to ensure that every single child has access to education, because I believe in equality,” the President said. He added that education must be driven by innovation and transformation, in order to ensure that Guyana is on par with international standards.ad-1

At the 100th Anniversary commemoration of the Berbice High School, the President said Education in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is the key to innovation and transformation.

“Guyana’s capacity to compete in global markets will rely on our ability to innovate. Innovation requires that greater emphasis be placed on education, particularly STEM education. The greatest innovation in (the) global economy is in the scientific and information technology fields,” he said.

President Granger has pledged his administration’s commitment to ensuring that education goes beyond the classroom and includes all aspects of ICT. It is as a result of this commitment that the eGovernment Agency has been busy with the roll-out of its Improving Digital Equity, Access and Learning (IDEAL) programme.

IDEAL involves the provision of an interconnected database for creation of an interconnected e-government network within ministries and their related agencies across the country; as well as the creation of ICT hubs within communities and educational institutions. One of the first phases of IDEAL included working with the Ministry of Education to roll-out the Secondary Schools Internet Connectivity project, which began in August this year. The eGovernment Agency has thus far concluded this phase with 100 educational institutions being provided with free Internet and WiFi services in Pomeroon-Supenaam (Region Two), Essequibo Islands-West Demerara (Region Three), Demerara-Mahaica (Region Four), Mahaica-Berbice (Region Five) and East Berbice-Corentyne (Region Six).

The project is expected to facilitate delivery of the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum; and the schools, ICT hubs and other learning institutions are all being served by 54 towers that have been erected along the Coast and connected to the eGovernment Agency’s 11 LTE sites.gov-2

The eGovernment Agency has also conducted several visits to these areas, to provide additional assistance and to monitor the performance of the recently installed systems. On a visit to the Mahaica-Berbice and the East Berbice-Corentyne regions at the initial stage of the project, Chief Executive Officer of the eGovernment Agency, Mr. Floyd Levi, said the initiative comes at an opportune time, as Internet access is a critical resource for students sitting the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) Examinations, especially in light of the new requirement of online submission of School Based Assessments (SBAs).

On their most recent visit to the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region, the eGovernment Team met with several stakeholders, including the Regional Executive Officer (REO) and the Regional Education Officer (REDO), and conducted visits to several schools which have benefited from the project. Mr. Levi said the trip allowed for further recommendations to be made for expansion of the project in the area.

Region Two REDO Ms. Baramdai Seepersaud lauded the initiative, adding that it would aid in research and access of information. She noted that not only is the eGovernment service free, but it is also faster than the existing Internet network in the region. She added that based on interactions with several of the schools, the service has since been working extremely well.

The trip also allowed for further recommendations to be made for expansion of the project to other institutions, such as the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education, the Guyana School of Agriculture, libraries, and other institutions.gov-3

“ICT is very important. Our young minds are all technologically-inclined, so they look forward to it. With the Internet, you can do so many things in your own little space,” Ms. Seepersaud said.

School officials have also expressed appreciation for upgraded IT laboratories, which were provided under the project in many of the institutions; but secondary school students are not the only beneficiaries of this project, as digital equity means equal access for everyone, including the underprivileged and the at-risk.

The New Opportunity Corps (NOC), the correctional facility for youth in Guyana, is among the organisations that have benefited from the initiative. In addition to providing the WIFI services to the facility, the Agency has provided 15 laptop computers for the institution’s IT Laboratory, while officials from the agency will also fill the gap created by a shortage of teachers to provide training for the juveniles who are resident at the NOC. It was stated that, given equal opportunities and resources, these young people can perform as well as any other set of students. “These students need life skills that can serve them well in the future, and these things form very much a part of that future. So they have to be prepared that when they leave here they can integrate well into society, and can lead meaningful and productive lives,” it was said.

Senior Training Officer of the NOC, Mr. Parasram Singh, has said that the initiative therefore aids in providing a brighter future for the young people, as it would help to foster a better learning process for them even as they remain at the facility.

“It’s a wonderful initiative. They sometimes feel forgotten…so it is a blessed day for the NOC… We cannot expect anything better than this,” he said.

The second phase of the IDEAL programme also includes establishment of community ICT hubs which would see provision of free Internet services within identified communities. Community Analyst of the eGovernment Agency, Mr. Marlon Pearson, explained that this project involves meeting with key stakeholders to identify communities, and meeting with the community members; installation of systems in identified locations that are accessible by all community members; and engaging with the private sector collaborators for equipping and furnishing of hubs, where needed.gov-1

Coming out of recommendations from the Regional Administration in Pomeroon-Supenaam, the communities of Dartmouth, Lima Sands, Good Success, Charity and Aurora have so far been identified for implementation of this project. During consultations with the Regional Executive Officer of Region Two, Mr. Rupert Hopkinson, the Agency was also able to secure space at the Regional Office in Anna Regina where it can set up a permanent location so as to monitor the eGovernment services in that region.

Mr. Levi has said that the sole aim of the Agency is to transform Guyana into a digital society. It has already been planned to extend this network to communities in the hinterland, and this plan is expected to be executed next year.