Equipping our youth with tools for success

If Bermudians are to survive in the digital age it is imperative that we make the early jump to equip every child in school with a laptop.  Such a trend is increasingly happening around the world as countries are discovering the need to expose their youth to the benefits of technology so they can ensure no child is left behind in tomorrow’s future.  We should be looking to take the best ideas from around the world and utilizing our wealth to properly invest in our youth to provide tangible opportunity for the future and the best education system possible.

CNN has an interesting article on how the government minister for technology in Macedonia, one of Europe’s poorest countries, has decided to improve the country’s educational system by outfitting schools with a slew of new computers using thin-client technology.

What is particularly fascinating about the article is the discussion of whether Macedonia should be investing in the One Laptop Per Child initiative instead:

Walter Bender, One Laptop Per Child’s director of software and content, derides the traditional model, in which children get to use PCs only in computer labs for a few hours a day, as “antiquated” and “ineffectual.”

“It’s such a backward way of actually educating people in computing,” Bender said. “It’s better than nothing, but it’s not going to touch the families, it’s not going to be used as engine for entrepreneurship, creativity, exploration. … Maybe it’s economical from the dollars and cents perspective, but not from the learning perspective.”

Ivo Ivanovski, Macedonia’s minister of information society, defends his decision to equip schools with thin-client computers as the One Laptop Per Child route would be unrealistic for a country where educational resources are stretched so thin that half the children attend school in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.  He contends that his plan will better equip all of Macedonia’s 420,000 students even with their limited resources.

However, Bermuda is not limited like Macedonia.  Indeed, being one of the richest countries in the world we are far from it.  With our own situation of a poorly performing education system and questions arising of how to revolutionize it, should we be leaving ourselves to be left behind when third world nations around the world are preparing to equip every student with a laptop?

Bermuda could be in the position to lead the way if we were to embrace truly progressive forward thinking and begin strategizing how we could equip our own students with the tools for success.  Ideally, we could be taking the best of both worlds by equipping our students with laptops that act as thin-clients supported by a high speed wireless network with benefits such as being able to host centrally managed virtual machines for youth to connect in to which would remove a great many of the maintenance hurdles while still affording youth the abilities to explore, create and entrepreneur their way into a digital future.

Bermudians need to encourage and embrace a future that will provide the best possible opportunities for our youth.  We need to take heed of the changes happening worldwide and rather than being left behind, take the lead by being one of the first to empower our youth.  We should be taking the best ideas from around the world and investing in the best possible education system to provide the most opportunity we can manage.  Every Bermudian child should be equipped with a laptop.

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13 thoughts on “Equipping our youth with tools for success

  1. I agree with all you have said “BUT” we have a mind set that has to change in Bermuda. we have been waisting our only asset , “BRAIN POWER” It is costing about a million dollars a year to produce one student of about 12th grade education .
    May i suggest we read ‘BLACK RED NECKS AND WHITE LIBERALS’ by Thomas Sowell .and we might understand where our education has gone . he explains it very well .or i should say where our education has come from.

  2. Education?? ask a young person today , where vegatables come from? They can tell you ! the supermarket.When i was at school we had gardens not to become farmers , non of us did.but we know how and where food comes from and what kinds .”SO” we did not get “FAT” There are manny aspects of education and learning which we seem to have lost.

  3. I’m all for technology and fortunately this is a rich country and can afford things like laptops for every child. And I would support this 100% provided controls were in place to make sure the kids took care of the laptops and actually used them (i.e. a privilege that is respected) That’s long, detail oriented topic.
    I completely agree with Harry–it’s the desire to get an education which is most important. Things like laptops are just tools, which in the right hands become extremely useful.
    If we don’t get that Abraham Lincon attitude of learning by candlelight and using chalk on a shovel to do math the benefits of this type of thing will be stunted.
    It’s kind of like trying to lose weight on a fad diet rather than going to the gym–you will just never succeed unless you put the work in.

  4. A large part of the problem is motivation. For today’s youth it is hard to see the long term benefits of working hard and getting a good education.
    The core reason why I’m good at computers today is because I liked playing games on the computer at a young age. It provided the seed for me to explore games in greater detail and then branch out to other areas.
    The trick to getting kids to respect and use laptops is to provide reasons for why they’d actually want to. Tap into their interests.
    Garageband is a great example. Tutorials could be given to introduce to kids the ability to create their own music, something which many kids would be very interested in.
    Graphic design, video editing and other arts are other examples of what can be done on a modern day laptop with much greater ease and lower costs than in the past.
    Gaming including design and building of them.
    Robotics… communications… the internet and social networking…
    Kids need to be inspired as to why they should want to get an education and why they would want to make use of and respect the tools they’re given.
    Unfortunately, only the rich will be able to achieve it because they’re the only ones who will have the resources to provide these kinds of opportunities to their children.

  5. Unfortunately, only the rich will be able to achieve it because they’re the only ones who will have the resources to provide these kinds of opportunities to their children.
    Whoa there buddy. I can’t agree with that, at least in the bermuda context. Actually, in any context. Money has its advantages, don’t get me wrong, but its attitude that’s key. We’ve got to break those types of negative thought patterns and focus on positive solutions. (No, I’m not Tony Robbins)
    In any case, this island’s got a billion dollar budget now. That is $16,666 for every Bermudian. Compare that to the US which spends $10,000 per citizen (3 trillion budget divided by 300 million people). We spend 66% more per capita. Even taking into account economies of scale those numbers point to some serious inefficiencies in how we run this place.
    Perhaps if we weren’t overspending by $62 million every time we build schools or paying for the frequent boondoggles of our various ministers there’d be enough money to give every child a laptop, desktop, robot dog, etc.
    Say the average tricked out laptop costs $2,000 when you factor in duty and shipping (last time I was abroad I saw them for around $1300 so I think this is a reasonable guestimate). The overspend on Berkeley alone would buy 31,000 laptops. More than enough for every student and teacher.
    And that’s just a one-off budget item, think about the improvements which could be made if real fiscal responsibility were implemented.
    For example, say we shaved just one million off the grossly inflated government travel budget and put it towards improving the technology at all public schools either through rewiring classrooms to be multimedia compatible, training teachers and students how to use the technology, or purchasing special software or equipment.
    next, think of the benefits if our laws were updated and designed to ensure sustainable competition. How many more people could afford internet if government changed the telecom regulations so that it was easier to bypass BTC’s ridiculous $100 a month charge for a DSL line and there was real competition. I understand this is a $12 one time cost for BTC. The cost of competition is $0 to the government and, actually, I know they are working on this right now which is good.
    Maybe some of this money could be spent motivating parents and upgrading their skills through parenting workshops or adult home economics classes.
    I could go on, but in my opinion, it’s not a wealth differential which is creating inequities or harming education in Bermuda society at this point in time, its the gross inefficiency and lack of foresight of our society itself. Nowhere is that more clear than the fact private schools spend less on students than public schools but are getting better results.
    Its not that we don’t have enough money, we just need to demand more for our governing dollars.

  6. Silencedogood,
    Thanks for effectively arguing in support of my case.
    There is simply no reason why real solutions cannot be undertaken. As you suggest, “The overspend on Berkeley alone would buy 31,000 laptops. More than enough for every student and teacher.” and those estimates are at a pricey $1300 when compared to the $200 Classmate PC (http://www.intel.com/intel/worldahead/classmatepc/), the regular PC’s you can get for about $700 (http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=3119392&CatId=2510) or even Macbooks for $1100.
    Bermuda needs to start paying attention to what the rest of the world is doing to solve similar problems (OLPC for example) and not only copying them, but outdoing them.
    We need real ideas, real innovation and most importantly to put down the attitude of pointing out every reason why something can’t be done and start finding ways how they can.

  7. Yahwelcome! I agree with you on the tech, I just don’t see it as necessary or unattainable. That don’t mean I don’t think it’s great if we can afford it, and we can.

  8. I’m not suggesting it’s the be all and end all solution to our education problems, but I think it could serve as part of the puzzle.
    That along with regular standardized testing across the board for both students and teachers, internet based tutors and programs focused around technology including laptops for every child. Some of which could be introduced as a trial alongside the proposed changes of the education review.

  9. Ah, but your math is very misleading. First the United States budget is 100 billion dollars less to start with; factor out major costs Bermuda can’t even fathom such as 550 billion for defense or a space program or billions to aid other nations, and the statistical spend is much more like $7,500 per person, including some 20,000,000 illegal immigrants. Much less than half the amount supposedly spent per person by Bermuda.
    With those numbers in mind, it seems the situation there is far worse then even you want to admit Mr. Pitcher. Where does the money go?

  10. As someone who works in the IT dept of a school that equipts all its students with laptops, I have mixed feelings about the policy.
    I agree, we should prepare our students with technology that will make them more competitive in the global job market. It is very idealistic. But the reality of it is that most of these kids use it for msn and downloading music (when they are home, they do not have access to it in school).
    And you would not believe the amount of cracked screens and damage these kids inflict on the laptops.. I can tell you some stories.
    But in all, I feel that it is a good idea.. It should be mandortory for the last 2 yrs in high school. But I feel that parents should be more strict on their children in terms of care and use.
    As a matter of fact I plan to ask teachers how they feel about it (I am interested in education in general). I may report my findings here.

  11. True, that’s a danger but probably a manageable one. I’d say the kid gets one laptop for the whole term of their education. If it gets damaged or destroyed they don’t get a new one, they get detention, and have to work off the price (no payouts from mom and dad), and no using private laptops at school. I’d make them sign a contract every year to this effect–not enforceable at all, but psychologically the child would have to commit to these responsibilities and lets everyone know what’s expected of them.
    I wouldn’t let it go home with them until they were old enough to appreciate it and then only if they demonstrated their responsibility. It’d be a privilege, so if they had discipline problems at school the laptop would be the first thing to go.
    The kids who take care of their equipment and are learning with it–I’d upgrade them every few years to a better laptop and pass theirs down to some of the kids who are younger or who are getting a second chance with the laptop. For those kids who demonstrated responsibility with their laptops, I’d either give it to them at graduation, or buy them a brand new one at graduation provided they are continuing their education either at Bermuda College or abroad.
    I dont’ really care if a kid uses it to instant message at home so long as they are not doing it during class, are learning and incorporating it into their schoolwork. I would expect every graduate to know how to use word, excell, powerpoint, how to create a database, and the basics of internet research and the pitfalls of the internet as a reliable source–powerful skills for those kids to take to college or into the workforce.
    This type of system would require oversight and leadership by the teachers and administrators. I couldn’t say whether that exists now or not, but its definately a feasible plan.

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