- 21 MAR 2023
Prime Minister Rowley’s Address at The Launch of the Ministry of Education’s Digital Transformation Programme
Feature Address by Dr. the Hon. Keith Rowley
Launch of the Digital Transformation Programme of the Ministry of Education
Let me begin by welcoming you, including those of you who are joining us remotely, to today’s launch of the Ministry of Education’s Digital Transformation Programme. I congratulate Dr Nyan Gadsby Dolly, our hard-working Minister of Education and her team at the Ministry, for this excellent initiative which is designed to accelerate our children’s use of digital technologies in their educational pursuits.
Today’s launch marks a continuation of the good work that the Ministry has been doing to leverage technology in order to deliver improved access to education for citizens. For example, we have seen the development and expansion of the School Learning Management System with which our students and parents directly interface. We have also seen the provision of “end-to-end service delivery” for the MoE’s applications’ process for the award of National Scholarships and Bursaries as well as GATE. Of course, these are just two of the “e-services” which are currently available; and as Minister Bacchus has indicated, we will continue to significantly increase
e-services in the near future.
I believe that the name “MoE Access” is extremely appropriate. One of my Government’s guiding principles is our commitment to ensuring that our citizens have the opportunity to access the services, the tools and the other resources needed to enable them to live, work and prosper as we overcome the many challenges of the recent past.
The MoE Access initiative brings together two key elements of the Government’s strategy for achieving Sustainable Development in Trinidad and Tobago. The first,is the priority that we have placed on Education, and our steadfast commitment to ensuring that all citizens, especially our young people, are equipped to navigate today’s fast-paced and rapidly evolving world.
This is best illustrated in the fact that in the 2023 Budget estimates, out of a projected total expenditure of TT $ 57.68 billion, some $7.45 billion, or just under 13% has been allocated to the Ministry of Education.
It is the single largest allocation to any Government Ministry, larger even than the funding assigned to the Ministry of Health ($6.892 billion, or 11.95% of this year’s Budget), and the Ministry of National Security ($5.79 billion, or slightly more than 10%), which are the second and third largest allocations, respectively. This demonstrates just how seriously we take the business of Education in Trinidad and Tobago.
The second element that we are focusing on today is of course Digital Technology, which presents significant opportunities for us in Trinidad and Tobago.
The opportunities are limitless. As we discovered recently, the resilience of our people and our capacity to pivot and adapt, enabled us to immediately make the transition from an in-person to an Online environment.
- Where possible, we worked Online, from home.
- We socialized, celebrated birthdays, weddings, held family reunions and grieved for the loss of our loved ones via the Internet.
- We were able to continue our Education Online, and for this, I extend my profound thanks and appreciation to our students and their families, our teachers and educators, and the teaching institutions themselves, all of whom worked so hard to deliver the educational and instructional content Online.
What these events have shown us is that, Digital Technology, when appropriately deployed, and made accessible to everyone, has the power to positively transform our lives for the better.
Transformation also means that we have to change. We have to change the way that we are used to doing things, to step out of our comfort zones and face a degree of uncertainty and disruption in our daily lives. We have to acknowledge that there are things that we do not yet know, or the impacts emerging technologies will have but we must have a balanced outlook.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
- Artificial Intelligence offers us a future, previously unimagined; where we are transported by driverless vehicles in comfort and safety, where our groceries and purchases are delivered by drones, and where automated chat bots offer us efficient personalized services.
- However, there are also deep-seated concerns over the extent to which AI will make many jobs redundant, and about the potential negative impact caused by the replacement of human operators by automated customer service representatives. Let me hasten to reassure you that indeed while jobs are being redundant, new jobs are emerging at an even faster rate. Who remembers putting film in a camera, taking many pictures to capture a single usable image, trudging to a photo studio with film safely in hand, to be developed in a dark and to order prints? Those jobs have indeed disappeared and they have been replaced by more technologically advanced jobs and of course result in faster service delivery for the customers. The list of job evolution and revolution is long and now all we have are the memories of the “Kodak moments” and their associated jobs.
The Internet of Things (IOT)
- The Internet of Things (IOT) is a technology that allows devices to be connected to the Internet. The many potential benefits of doing this include the ability to significantly increase our safety and security by remote monitoring – the physical safety of our homes; improved community safety through the early detection of natural disasters such as flooding and the use of IOT devices for telehealth. This is the age of Alexia, the tireless dutiful assistant and the ever present drones for all purposes.
- On the other hand, there is a need to ensure that the vast quantities of data collected via IOT devices is not misused, nor does it fall into the wrong hands, to be used for the wrong purpose.
- The emergence of something called “social media” has opened up communications in ways that we could not have imagined:
- We are able to interact with like-minded persons across the world easily, often in real time.
- During the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it kept many of us in touch with our families and friends, even those living in other countries.
- Social media platforms have become facilitators for the sharing of information, enabled the development of virtual communities, and even acted as drivers for micro-entrepreneurship.
- There is also an urgent need to better understand and to manage the darker side of Social Media, as evidenced by growing concerns over Online safety, Cyber-crime and Social Engineering, and the increasing spread of deliberate misinformation called Fake News.
We have a responsibility to ensure that we manage the introduction of new Digital Technologies in an orderly and responsible manner, lest uncertainty becomes concern, concern becomes doubt, and doubt becomes fear and paranoia. Our young people can be shielded from but not insulated from these developments that are, in fact, their world. We just have to teach them good values and help them to cope.
I assure you that Cybersecurity remains high on the government’s agenda. With the promise of these new opportunities, comes the need for increased security. In collaboration with leading global experts, we are addressing the rules governing cybersecurity and the Ministry of Digital Transformation is exploring the ways in which we can strengthen them. We will place every mechanism in place to secure our students and keep them from exposure to harmful elements. We will also equip them with knowledge so they can either avoid the risks or know how to address them if they do present themselves in their lives. There will be multiple levels of protection and awareness campaigns to build our national cybersecurity literacy levels.
Our nation stands on the brink of this new frontier that presents both great opportunity and the potential for adversity. I put it to you however that we do not have much of a choice but to go along the road of change and transformation.
As I would have said in my contribution in the budget debate back in September last year, that although we continue to depend on oil and gas as our primary source of income, and will do so for the immediate future, we are acutely aware that in the long term there will be a need to develop other sources of income.
The MDT has a number of initiatives to support the increase in the contribution of the ICT sector to GDP which simultaneously serves the purpose of economic development and supporting the bridges that the MoE is creating through this digital transformation thrust. For example, through its Developer’s Hub initiative, it is creating an ecosystem where our young people and our entrepreneurs can get access to infrastructure, training, and mentorship to become technology savvy in their own right. We will harness the raw talent of our bright minds, challenge them to push the boundaries of innovation, developing solutions for existing problems or creating avenues to capitalize on potential strengths and opportunities.
The Ministry will also soon be embarking on a program, competition if you prefer, to fund the end-to-end creation of an electronic solution, from idea to proof of concept, to production and marketing. We want to ensure that everyone has a fair chance and ability to access these opportunities.
This supports one of our priorities, the development of our own local human capital. It is an urgent one, and is consistent with Goal 4 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which is to:
- “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”
For us in Trinidad and Tobago, this vision for our Education system is not a “Nice to Have”. The fulfilment of Goal 4 of the SDGs is a matter of National Survival, as we strive to ensure that our people are equipped with the necessary skills, training and tools to enable them to compete, innovate, create and ultimately prosper despite the many challenges that we are facing as a nation.
Fortunately, Trinidad and Tobago has a rich, creative pool of talented young people. Given the opportunity, we excel. Our nationals are to be found everywhere on Earth. And where they are to be found, they are invariably respected for their creativity, their intelligence, and their ability to work hard.
Our late great founding father, Prime Minister, Dr. Eric Williams is famously quoted as saying that:
“The future of our nation is in the school bags of our children”
Dr. Williams made that statement some sixty years ago, shortly after Trinidad and Tobago gained its Independence.
More than half a century, and many advances in technology later, his words still hold true. In the meantime the schoolbags of our children have evolved to the Laptops, Tablets, and Mobile Devices of our students and these, like the book bags hold the key to our future. It is for this reason that, as representative of the schoolchildren in my own constituency of Diego Martin West, during the darkest days of the pandemic, I spent a lot of time and effort preparing to provide a gift of this technology to my primary school students from Carenage to Diego Martin. As a result, we were able to establish and provide a computer lab/class in all seven primary schools in our constituency, preparing for their journey into a tech-filled world.
The MoE Access suite of initiatives adopts a holistic and systematic approach to the infusion of digital technology into our Education Ecosystem. The wide-ranging scope of this initiative includes:
- Infrastructure and Hardware projects (WiFi in Schools, the School Laptop programme;
- Learning Tools (e.g. e-Textbooks, the use of Open Education Learning Resources); and
- Applications and e-Services (e.g. the SEA Results Portal, School Infrastructure /Issue Management – SIMS solution)
Even as we celebrate the Ministry of Education’s achievement this morning, I would like to draw to your attention the high priority that the Government has placed on Digital Transformation across the entire Public Sector.
The pace of DT in Government has been accelerating over the past few years, and will continue to do so during 2023. In this year, the proposed investment by Government in Digitization and Digitalization projects across the Public Sector is more than $437 million – an increase of over 30% compared to 2022.
For example, through the MDT we have approved the accelerated construction or outfitting of ICT Access Centres across Trinidad and Tobago. These centres represent a physical space where our citizens who do not have ready access to personal digital technology, or do not quite yet understand the full range of abilities and possibilities that technology can provide, can go to access, interact, and learn about how all of it works. They are in those communities that have been identified as being underserved or are “digital excluded”. We have seen in those in operation that staff of the centres (who come from within the community themselves) have expanded their roles to create homework supervision programmes, to help students conduct online research, print homework, provide small certification programmes in literacy and coding and other such helpful services.
The Centres are also working with the Adult Literacy Teaching Association to host online training courses and this is being widened to include other agencies such as the Blind Welfare Association to target those sections of our society that must be included in the digital transformation dialogue. The programme is about inclusivity and collective development.
On this note, I think that it will be useful to say something about how the Government is setting about the task of implementing the various Digital Transformation initiatives on which we are currently focused.
As you may have deduced from the earlier statements from Minister Gadsby-Dolly and Minister Bacchus, the Government is pursuing Digital Transformation on two distinct, although highly inter-connected levels.
- On the one hand, as Minister Bacchus has explained, the Ministry of Digital Transformation has responsibility for a number of cross-cutting initiatives that will create the necessary enabling environment for Digital Transformation. The majority of the MDT’s projects will have a national or Public Service-wide impact, and almost all require close collaboration between and among multiple agencies with Government, as well as the Private Sector and Civil Society.
- On the other hand, as exemplified by today’s launch of MoE Access, many Ministries Departments and Agencies are pursuing their own individual Digital Transformation initiatives. Although the implementation and resourcing of these projects will generally require close collaboration with other arms of Government – especially our Ministry of Finance, as well as the Ministry of Digital Transformation itself – the overall responsibility for driving these projects lies within the particular lead Ministry.
In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to once again congratulate the Minister of Education for championing the MoE Access Initiative.
MoE Access has already made a positive impression on citizens, as evidenced by the positive feedback received from users of the SEA Results App last year.
I turn my attention to provide encouragement to the recipients of these major investment initiatives on which we have embarked; our precious young people who we must nurture, protect and develop in all that they do; our parents, guardians and spiritual leaders who are charged with the responsibility for their growth and development in all areas; our educators at all levels, primary, secondary and tertiary, supervisors and all staff at the Ministry of Education. Yours is a sacred trust. In your hands, you hold our future. The nation is counting on you to guide the development of all our young people towards becoming good, competent, disciplined and productive citizens of our beloved country.
I would therefore like to conclude by wishing the Ministry of Education well with its MoE Access initiative. This important venture will significantly advance the infusion of digital technology into our Education system, and support the Government’s strategic thrust towards Sustainable Development at the national level.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you.