Monday, 21 January 2013 02:30
By Carol Williams
Antigua, St. John's - Cabinet has granted telecommunications company, Digicel, millions of dollars in concessions in exchange for partnering on e-education programmes.
Minister of Telecommunications, Science & Technology Dr Edmond Mansoor has not stated the exact value of the concession package.
He told Observer Radio's Big Issues programme on Sunday that the benefits that were considered and accepted by Cabinet during the first quarter of last year are in line with the company's investments in the country.
"The government obviously scored a big win in this area," he said.
Overall, the cost of connectivity for the five years has been estimated at $71.6 million, or $14.3 million a year.
Dr. Mansoor did not respond directly to questions about whether the initiatives are being used by this administration to score political points, instead stating polarity is not a factor.
"One cannot point to any area that is digitally disadvantaged because of political imperatives. What I want to say is that we are committed to equipping our students with the tools to make them more competitive citizens, and parents and guardians have a very important role to play in preparing their children for a competitive future," he said.
Over the past months, parents and others have criticised the practicality of the tablet initiative and some of the attached conditions, such as the $1600 that will have to be paid in case of damage or theft if not reported.
Some residents contend that students may use the technology to access inappropriate websites and suggested that focus be placed on completing the national library.
Noting that no system is completely foolproof, Telecommunications Officer Clement Samuel assured that the programme has a filter to block unsuitable content.
He also stated that software has been installed on the tablets that allows the administrators to send warnings to students if they think things are being done that are inappropriate.
It was also noted that the filter will be off once the user exits the Digicel network and utilises a wifi at home.
As it relates to the $1600, the telecoms officer said Digicel will announce in the coming days an insurance package that parents can opt into "for a small fee."
In addition to that, Samuel explained the reason for the 12-hour window to access the internet on the tablets.
"A compromise had to be made where we would for 12 hours of the day allow the students to have it free, and that Digicel will be able to offer weekend and evening packages to customers. So it is, I think, a give and take situation," he said.
Last week, the tablets were handed out to fifth-form students from the Antigua Girls High School, St Marys School of Excellence, St Josephs Academy and Island Academy.
During the second phase, to be launched around 15 February, another 1,000 tablets will be distributed to other secondary schools.
Special Projects Coordinator Asha Christian-Philip said the programme is progressing as expected, though there have been challenges.
"As with any projects there are hiccups but we are doing our best to make sure we remain on track," she said.
Ministry officials are due to visit the four schools this week to have discussions with students and the administrators to gather feedback.
A meeting will also be held with representatives of the Ministry of Education on the way forward.