The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has mobilised resources to purchase a tablet computer for each student in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Initially, Parliament, in April, allocated money for the purchase of tablets for Grade 6 and secondary school students.
“We have been in negotiation with a number of vendors and suppliers and we have received additional support from sources outside of the money we had in the budget,” Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves said in announcing the expanded programme.
“So we’ve learned now that we can get some money from an educational NGO. We’ve learned that there’s some money from the government of India, we’ve learned that there’s some money that we can repurpose from the World Bank that will allow us to expand the tablet program to cover all students. So that will be a programme that will now deal with 30,000 tablets for all the students in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he told a press conference on Wednesday.
The finance minister, however, said that students should manage their expectations.
“Now, these are not iPads; they’re not Samsung Galaxy tablets. These are affordable laptops that have the basic minimum criteria that make it possible for students to get online and get the necessary instruction and submit homework or SBAs or what have you, back to the centre.”
He said that several other countries are pursuing similar programmes.
“So, tablets are in scarce supply at the moment. So we are not going to be able to buy one brand from one source at one time because very few people are able at this point in time to deliver the amount of tablets we want with the specifications we want in the timeframe that we want.
“So, we’re going to begin with a smaller order for the senior secondary school students, because they are the ones closest to important exams and the grade sixes in primary school, we’re going to place an order for those first because that will be about the order of 3,000 tablets.”
He said that the other tablets, which will be shipped out of China will come a little later.
“We’ll buy those in tranches thereafter. But we believe that within a month, we will have gone a very long way to addressing the digital divide that may form if children are out of school for an extended period of time.
“Of course, the date of when school resumes is a rolling target. But we hope that these tablets will assist students even when school resumes at some level and it’s entirely possible that school might not resume as a full day activity straightaway. So these tablets will be important to students,” he said.
School broke one week earlier than usual for the Easter break and is yet to resume because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Education has switched to online lessons, but the finance minister noted that not all students or households have access to a handheld device that they can use to access these online classes.
He further noted that many houses are without internet service.
“Only about a quarter of households in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have Wi-Fi. Not everybody has a device that they can use to access the internet to participate in these classes,” the finance minister said.
“We don’t want to create a digital divide, where the more affluent children have better access to educational instruction than those who are less affluent. So the government, in the supplementary budget, placed resources aside for the purchase of sufficient tablets for all of secondary schools, and the grade six of primary schools because you figure grade six would be getting ready for their common entrance exam,” he said.