NOVEMBER 28, 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for your very warm welcome.
I am very happy to share in this landmark occasion in the history of The Mico and I am indeed honoured to have been asked to be your keynote speaker.
If there is one thing, apart from my faith, which inspires and strengthens my belief in a bright future for Jamaica, it is the progress achieved by our citizens, our communities and our institutions through their social responsibility, vigorous mind and committed service to mankind. These are the force which underpins our society! Their strength or weakness determines whether our country prospers or stagnates.
Our educational institutions, particularly our institutions of higher learning, are ideally positioned to this continuing transformation. In the first instance, higher education exerts a powerful influence through the high academic standards that they maintain and the education that is provided for the students when they are with you; and through the work of their graduates who have been prepared to give committed professional service to country.
Higher education also exerts a powerful influence through interactions with our communities and through engagements in professional discourse. The influence and power that higher education wields over individuals and society is well documented in the case of the American university. Research universities in the US served as the spawning ground for scientific and technical information and for the development of new technological and commercial enterprises. (Crow, M. M. and Tucker, C. The American Research University System as America’s de facto Technology Policy. June 1, 1999).
The Mico University College is one of those educational institutions which Jamaicans have always equated with excellence. I remember the pride with which teachers would declare that they were graduates of The Mico, as if all other pedagogical institutions had somehow fallen short of the standards of their alma mater.
They were also proud that so many leaders from diverse sectors of our society had graduated from The Mico. Those Miconians of yesteryear sensed that they not only had a right to bask in the reflected glory of outstanding alumni, but that they themselves could aspire to greatness.
When access to universities became easier for the ordinary Jamaican, The Mico’s pride of place was eclipsed. Teachers with university degrees were much more marketable both in Jamaica and overseas. To the credit of its Board and faculty, no time was lost in mourning the “good old days” or in docile acceptance of the new reality. Education had become big business and institutions had to compete to excel or even to survive. Thus began the march towards University College status and I was enormously pleased when this was achieved in 2006.
Today marks another important step which validates The Mico as one of Jamaica’s successful institutions. Having recognized the prerequisite that any first-rate university must facilitate cutting-edge research, The Mico has launched its Institute of Technological and Educational Research, and we are here today to celebrate.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Please join me in commending Principal, Dr. Claude Packer, for having led this initiative and for having been wise enough to charge Professor Edwin Jones with the duty of bringing the vision to fruition.
It is essential in today’s dynamic global environment, where knowledge is not static, that you traverse new paths to excellence. Many textbooks and theories which were valid and considered essential for certain specialized studies a decade or two ago, have already been discarded. Concepts which underpinned international relations and global security became irrelevant with the fall of the USSR, the terrorism of 9-11 and the changes in the global economy.
Communication has been revolutionized by technology which is advancing in nanoseconds, impacting on cultural identities and in many instances, eroding relationships, traditions and beliefs. The electronic media and the internet expose us in real time to events in distant regions, and on the home front, we are never spared the sensational “breaking news”. By the click of a mouse or a touch on a screen, the world is at our fingertips. For good or for ill, we are truly living in a global village!
Technology has changed the way we do business, the way we interact, the way we are entertained, learn or teach and even the way we worship. Some occupations are gradually being made irrelevant as cyber-knowledge increases. With all the information that is available on the World Wide Web, is there a risk that teachers could become irrelevant?
What is clear is that pedagogy must prepare teachers to readily adapt to the dynamism of the digital revolution. The days of the chalkboard are rapidly drawing to a close and are giving way to interactive white-boards. More research is being done on the internet than in the library. Students in some developed countries are doing scientific projects or medical research in 3-D animation, which is also being used by engineering and architectural students.
No doubt most of you would have heard about ToonBoom Animations, a Montreal-based company which has become quite active in Jamaica. Last July, ToonBoom collaborated with the “I Believe” Initiative in offering short, intensive animation courses for youth at UTECH, NCU and UWI-CARIMAC in Montego Bay. Its CEO, Ms Joan Vogelesang, was the Keynote Speaker at the IBI’s National Youth Conference a month ago October 24.
Of significance for the field of education is the fact that ToonBoom is active in the development of software to enhance teaching and learning. The company developed an animations software package which initially focused on teaching art. Now, that software has been expanded for use in core curricula in a number of schools in Canada, the USA, Namibia and South Africa. Those schools have reported amazing results, especially among disadvantaged youth who had shown minimal interest in learning. It seems to me that this is a development which Jamaica should explore and which the ITER might wish to consider establishing a relationship with ToonBoom.
There is no doubt that we are striving to keep up with the digital revolution in our schools. Under the government’s E-Learning Programme, more and more schools have computer laboratories. Additionally, the distribution of tablets under the “Schools Tablet Computer Programme” has begun. The introduction of Interactive White Boards is also gaining ground in the thrust for our education system to become more innovative.
All this means that teacher training institutions must not only prepare their students to effectively use these devices, but they must also research their usefulness and the content to be uploaded on them. I expect that the ITER will be actively involved.
New Discoveries vs. Improvements
In some areas our research may be directed not to new inventions, but to improving the quality and delivery of educational products and the way we do things. There is a company, BASF that is over a century old that has remained successful over this period of time not from new inventions but from a commitment to making products better. Their motto: “We don’t make a lot of products you buy. We make a lot of products you buy, better.
While we look for frame-breaking and epoch making discoveries, we need to understand that success in research does not always have to come through making new things, but that it can also come from finding new ways to make things better. Some of the things to consider when imagining improvements, is classroom methodology, instructional techniques, not only for students at the university level, but also for high school and primary school. In an island where our entire school system is beset by limited resources, finding new and effective ways to bring science and technology to our young learners will assure us of a future properly equipped with researchers (social and scientific).
We all know that technology in education is big business and that new or upgraded machines frequently come on the market. The question is, however attractive they might seem, do they truly impact on learning? Do they facilitate classroom interaction or do they further the surface relationships fostered by social media?
Content is another very important area for ITER’s focus. I understand that the tablets are being underutilized because of the inadequacy of educational material loaded on them. The Mico’s century-plus experience in Jamaica’s education makes you eminently qualified to develop programmes which zoom-in on areas of deficiency, especially in Maths and English. This would be particularly helpful for schools where teaching capacity is inadequate.
For this, we must ensure that a high percentage of our youth leave secondary and vocational schools already streamed towards exploiting the opportunities which are abundant in the digital economy. Schools must do more than expose youth to research and the acquisition of knowledge via the internet.
Many of our youth have been making waves in the digital world. We remember the 2010 victory of Team Xormis from NCU in the Microsoft Imagine Cup. Last year I was pleased to have designated the founder and CEO of Jamaica’s first e-magazine as an “I Believe” Ambassador because of the determination with which he approached his studies and the creation of his business. Last week, the achievements of a young female IT entrepreneur so impressed me at the Digital Jam 3.0 launch that I immediately designated her an “I Believe” Ambassador.
Significantly, the World Bank believes in our capacity to become the Caribbean Hub for the digital economy. Last year, the exploratory Digital Jam 2.0 which saw the World Bank collaborating with government and private sector, resulted in some 4,000 jobs for youth. They worked from their laptops connecting with employers in Australia, India and the USA. That experience convinced the World Bank that Jamaican youth are truly digital natives, who could propel Jamaica to regional dominance in the knowledge-based economy.
In order to consolidate the research that has already been done at Mico, the vision for the research endeavours of the institution and a strategic plan for its implementation should not be dimmed. Along with your plan the need for a core of committed and competent professionals who can spearhead research activities must be met. Individuals who have the motivation, patience and the persistence to stick with the process and see various projects through to completion.
And since success in research does not end with one iteration of a project, sticking with that project may mean remaining focussed and engaged through several cycles of research, development, prototyping, testing and marketing. Along the way, an engaged researcher may luckily discover some unanticipated bonuses as in the case of Dr. Alexander Fleming and Percy LeBaron Spencer.
The invention (if we may call it that) of penicillin is a prime example. Discovered in 1928 by Dr. Alexander Fleming, it came about simply because a stray mold landed in a petre dish. And in the case of the microwave oven, the application of the technology to cooking was accidentally discovered when Percy LeBaron Spencer of the Rayton Company found that radar waves had melted a candy bar in his pocket.
These are instances of unexpected bonuses that came as a result of prepared minds and hard work. These researchers were in a position to make sense of what they were witnessing because they were informed and engaged. As Plsek observed, “creative thinkers study and analyze but they have trained their perception mechanisms to notice things others miss” (p.2)
Ladies and Gentlemen, Research is certainly “not a walk in the park; it is a long hard slog” (Rumsfeld, of the US occupation of Iraq). Putting together a viable research program requires resources- funding and facilities, and a qualified faculty. Conducting research requires a prepared mind, a plan and persistent engagement. But for those who are committed and engaged, research and discovery has its own intrinsic rewards. The rewards also come in the benefits that accrue to individuals and society as innovative techniques and the discovery of new approaches improve the quality of instruction.
Research will always be forward looking, bearing in mind the dynamism of the knowledge-based economy and the need for pedagogy to keep in step with technological advances. My hope is that ITER will help to prepare teachers who are not only competent in the use of the technology, but can help students to discover and build their skills in the field.
You would have heard me repeat on various occasions that “what is wrong with Jamaica can be fixed by what is right with Jamaica”. I believe that our people are an aspect of what is right about Jamaica. With our creativity and ingenuity we have the potential to turn this country around, but our people need to believe this! This is the basic objective of the “I Believe” Initiative which I launched in May 2011 and of which I invite The Mico to become a part.
I believe that ITER’s vision for its future should soar beyond our current realities. ITER’s success will be Jamaica’s success, to which end I offer my very best wishes for ITER’s future and also for The Mico, in general.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I thank you.