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Student Laptop Programme

October 2, 2010

On Wednesday 29th September 2010, the Ministry of Education of the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago began distribution of laptops for students entering secondary school for the first time. The initiative cost TT$83 million (approximately US$13 million) in direct acquisition costs but I am unable to locate any information on the cost allocated for training of the teachers and (presumably) improved infrastructure at the schools.

Based on my research, a summary of the machines would be follows:

  • 20,300 HP 425 Notebook Computers with Windows 7
  • 14″ LED-backlit display
  • 2.2 GHz AMD Athlon II Dual-Core Processor
  • 320 GB, 7200 RPM Hard Drive
  • 3 GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • 802.11b/g/n Wireless and Bluetooth radios
  • 9 cell battery
  • Carrying case
  • Microsoft Innovative Suite (MSIS) including Microsoft Office
  • Remote tracking and remote-wipe capability
  • Warranty, “Food and Beverage Damage” and spare parts warehoused in T&T

Unlike other classroom laptop projects around the world, T&T students will be permitted to take these laptops home and use them on their own time. Under the government’s plan, in the next five years all secondary school students will be equipped with a laptop computer. I am unsure what the government may have in mind for those students who choose to pursue the additional two years of Form 6 schooling.

While the general public argues over the merit of this project, there are some factors that IT Professionals, Educators and Market Analysts must bear in mind now that the initiative has become reality.

Brand Recognition: An entire generation will grow up on HP and Microsoft products. This is marketing at its best – by offering products at a massive discount today, an entire generation – and their parents – will become likely return customers in future. For those involved in PC supply and repair, expect a larger customer base in a few short years and an increase in HP products on the market. Developers and administrators can expect no reduction in the demand for Microsoft products and platforms. Perhaps it is time to start ramping up those SharePoint and Office Web Apps deployments.

Social Networking: As it is, we Trinis are on the social media bandwagon and it may be reasonable to expect a further significant increase in T&T Facebook and Twitter accounts in the coming  years. It is no secret that teenagers and young adults represent a significant market segment and now they will have laptops en masse.  I recall creating a Facebook advertisement targeted at Trinidadians and Tobagonians aged 16-34. When I entered these criteria into Facebook’s advertisement builder, it provided me an estimated reach of over 248,000 persons. This was a few months ago before any laptop distribution. Webmasters, App Developers, Business Strategists, Advertisers, take note!

Bandwidth: Internet access for teachers and students will be provided via the government’s Wide Area Network (WAN) known as GOVNETT. It is claimed this will have no impact on residential and commercial customers but I am skeptical: The speeds offered by ISPs are increasing – just recently my 10 Mbps cable package made a leap to 25 Mbps. However, my actual browsing and download speed has not really reflected this change. It suggests to me that our links to the outside world may be in need of an upgrade, particularly with a large number of students jumping on board. From what I can find, GOVNETT uses   the Telecommunication Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) and I would consider it poor design if there is no backup connection via a second ISP.

Training: Teacher education programmes will need to place a greater emphasis on using technology in the classroom. It simply will not do for the students to better understand the technology than their educators. The workforce is going to change. For several years now, employers have been increasingly asking for their workers to be computer literate. In order to stay relevant, older generations must return to the classroom and ensure that their ability to use the tools of the digital era are in line with their experience in their respective fields.

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  1. Bradley
    October 3, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    GOVNETT is a TSTT provided network, but it’s independent of TSTT’s Business and Res networks. It will not have an effect, but if you want to look at it in the total, unless they separate the incoming data from overseas, it may cause some slow down on the general network. Nonetheless it doesn’t bother me as a TSTT customer. Second, the laptops’s Internet will be provided by the Ministry of Education’s own network, which is a subnet of GOVNETT… and as a worker in a secondary school… the network is horribly slow as it is. From what I’ve seen, the children will be connecting to the already established networks in school (which is currently on 1MBPS) … even if they upgrade to 5MB… how will that suffice for staff and all those students? IT’s slow as it is.

    Secondly, Social Networking on the school level is blocked completely. They are so ridiculous that they have blocked BlogSpot and WordPress.com (not independent WordPress installations though). So they’re forced to browse educational sites, but in my opinion, it limits video streaming in the classroom since YouTube is also blocked.

    • October 4, 2010 at 9:11 am

      Thanks for the insight Bradley. That the incoming connection from overseas is the same as for residential and business services is my concern due to the number of laptops. I would agree though that once that overseas bandwidth is sufficient there should not be a problem.

      Based on my experience, a 5 Mbps connection *should* actually work well enough with Youtube and Social Networking blocked – but to me those blocks are a mixed bag. The block to me should be done at a group level such that teachers can still access the websites for demonstration purposes and students can access a limited number of social network/blog/video sites once not on the school compound. It doesn’t make much sense to block out en masse what has become a fundamental part of the internet.

      • Bradley
        October 4, 2010 at 8:45 pm

        Hopefully. Currently was have a 1MB connection spread over maybe 50 computers… already slow as hell. Assuming they go up to 5, periods where the children are online could be stressful on the connection. As is, almost all the computers are in use simultaneously by students and staff. Gotta wait and see how it plays out.

  2. October 5, 2010 at 6:58 am

    I don’t have any links to give you but I do know for sure that there is significant teacher training going on with respect to the laptops.

    • October 5, 2010 at 8:27 am

      Sounds good – I hope some more information on that is released soon! The most I have been able to uncover so far is just that teachers are being trained.

  3. October 14, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    I think it’s a step forward, since it brings a lot of new opportunities for students.

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