By TOM GODFREY
Some high school students in rural Jamaica will receive a helping hand to improve their reading and writing skills in a pilot project being conducted by volunteers from Toronto.
Students from the parishes of Westmoreland and Hanover will soon be using their school’s little-used computer labs to access specially-designed education and learning programs to help them succeed.
Members of Power to Be International (PTBI) have joined forces with the University of Toronto’s Enactus and will be travelling to Jamaica this weekend with a goal to help children improve their basic learning skills.
Group members are taking several boxes of hi-tech gear, including routers that were developed by Enactus and loaded with learning materials for a “Lumifi in Literacy” program that can be downloaded by Wi-Fi to the screens of the eager Grade 7 to 12 students.
PTBI director, Kisha McPherson, said selected schools will be equipped with a router from which open-sourced information can be accessed by students.
“Many of these schools have computer labs that are not being used a lot due to software or other issues,” she told Share. “Students will have full access to all our programs and books on their computers.”
McPherson said a nine-member team will spend two days at each school to configure the hardware and train computer and literacy staff and students on its use.
It took about six months to plan the project and choose learning programs that are designed to help students with basic reading, writing and communications skills.
“We have been communicating with the principals of the schools and the students there are excited and cannot wait,” she told Share. “We have programs that were designed especially for these students.”
She said the literacy program will train and pay for a lab assistant to carry on the work for 10 weeks after the team has returned home. The progress of the students will be evaluated by the team and teachers at the schools.
Organizers said each school selected in the project will receive a Lumifi device, which uses a router as a hub of information that is accessible through any Wi-Fi enabled device. A single device can hold up to 800 unique books or 200 video lectures.
“This will provide these students with a virtual database of educational content,” said McPherson. “The information can be accessed via any electronic device without the need for an Internet connection.”
She said a literacy program was developed by PTBI to focus on “increasing basic literacy skills of students who are well below their age and grade level”.
There are also similar programs for youths in the Toronto area and in Grenada and St. Lucia.
“Our youth programs in the Caribbean provide opportunities for Canadian youth to engage in development through service learning and volunteering,” said McPherson.
Students of Little London High School in Westmoreland and Rhodes Hall High School in Hanover will first undergo the tests and the results will be assessed, organizers said.
The PTBI has long been active in Jamaica and members have helped in rebuilding the Negril All Age School in 2012 and Mt. Airy All Age School a year later.
The router device was perfected by U of T’s Enactus, an international non-profit organization committed to using entrepreneurial action to improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need.
PTBI organizers point out that Jamaica’s literacy rate currently stands at 82.9 per cent, according to statistics from a UNESCO Education for All (EFA) 2008 monitoring report. This number is slightly higher for youth between 15-24 years of age. However, access to post-secondary opportunities continues to be a major issue.
It is estimated that 19 per cent of the population in Jamaica is living below the international poverty line. One study claims that six per cent of the population is living on less than US$2 daily.