Monday, July 05, 2004

closing the digital divide in st. thomas

Edu-Tourism has made a commitment to help close the digital divide in rural Jamaica by working to set up computers in basic schools across the parish of St. Thomas. During my visits to several schools, it became apparent that the provision of computers needs to be coordinated with the provision of computer training. All too often there is mismatch between curriculum content and resources. As one example, I met a community rehabilitation worker at the 3D Projects office in Morant Bay who had taken an entire computer class about two years ago. She showed up at the computer/internet training I offered with the detailed set of notes she took at the earlier class. The instructor apparently went into the 'black box' by diagramming the internal components of the computer, and then led the students through a step by step tutorial on word processing. But a principal frustration of students in this class was their inability to link to the internet.

In my own training this wasn't an issue. The 3D Projects office had a perfectly functional IBM-clone computer, and they had a second phone line that they were using for their fax machine. Looking around the computer, however, I found that it had only been used to type of the monthly reports that were required by the 3D Projects main office in Spanish Town, St. Catherine. It was not being used to keep track to their clients, or to store resources that might be used for professional development. Connecting to the internet has recently become much easier because of the widespread availability of prepaid Internet cards (NetKyaad, a service of InfoChannel). With these cards, Jamaicans can control the amount of money that they pay for internet access, paying only for the time that they use. NetKyaad is available at many shops in Morant Bay as well as the Post Office, and can be bought in three denominations: $100, $200 and $500 Jamaican, and priced at ONLY $1.00 J (the equivalent of 1.5 American cents) per minute. This is an affordable and attractive option for those accessing the Internet for the first time.

We covered many issues during my two-day training (June 28 & 29). Two of the women I worked with had accessed the Internet before, and had some pointed questions about how to conduct searches. I showed them how to undertake a Google search and interpret the results. Other participants in the training approached the mouse and keyboard with evident reluctance. They said that they may have learned typing in school, but had not applied these skills since. Sandra Richards, the director of the office, volunteered that she wanted to establish a series of computer training sessions for herself and her colleagues, and I suggested that the Morant Bay Public Library would be a good place to hold these. The library director has informed Edu-Tourism that the lab can be reserved at a reduced rate for computer classes.

Over the course of my own training I introduced a number of web sites. The most interesting one for them was the main 3D Projects pages. The website itself was very easy to navigate and included a good deal of information on their initiatives in St. Catherine and on the North Coast of Jamaica. The women particularly enjoyed looking at the pictures - they would attempt to identify the CRW (Community Rehabilitation Worker) as well as the family members shown. The women also pointed out to me that the main office's website was out of date, reflecting old projects and initiative, and failing to mention any of the branches. From my own discussions with the 3D staff, I learned that the St. Thomas branch as reason to celebrate this summer - this is their sixteenth anniversary! We discussed the possibility of creating a website for the 3D Projects office in St. Thomas, and investigated a number of different websites where it would be possible to purchase .jm domain.

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