(Press release) Hon. Dr. Geoffrey Hanley, Deputy Prime Minister and Min. of Education addressed an audience of Ministers, Ambassadors, the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, and UNESCO education policy experts, at a policy forum conference today on the theme of TRANSFORMATION OF EDUCATION IN THE DIGITAL AGE, hosted by the UN specialized agency, UNESCO.
As the only minister from the English-speaking Caribbean region to address the opening session of the High-Level forum, Minister Hanley emphasized that the digitalisation of education framework has clear benefits, but a delicate balance must be struck in considering the issues of resources, capacity limitations and connectivity.
Referring to the Federation’s National Statement made at the 2021 UNESCO General Conference, he reiterated St. Kitts and Nevis’ experience in that
“… important lessons had been learnt during the COVID pandemic-provoked disruption to the education system. Despite laudable benefits to digitalise the learning process, it cannot be a substitute for the pedagogical knowledge and skills imparted by the teacher in the face-to-face experience. This is the basis for quality education, regardless of how it is delivered.”
Minister Hanley, a former professional teacher and stakeholder in the development of the national youth policy, stated, “Clearly, the digitalisation of the education framework goes beyond mere knowledge acquisition to factoring in behavioural dimensions such as learning self-regulation or style. The objective is also to support teachers in orchestrating a learning experience in their classroom that offers a rich and effective way of imparting knowledge, skills and behaviours to their students.”
Minister Hanley noted that explicit recognition should be recorded of the significant challenges faced by small island developing states in developing a digitalised education framework. These challenges relate to uneven economic development and growing inequalities within the Caribbean region, requiring differential approaches to education policy orientation and funding priorities, delivery mechanisms and professional teacher development. Limited and ineffective technological infrastructure in some islands has created a digital divide between island states.
The Federation’s Ambassador to UNESCO, H.E. David P. Doyle, remarked, “Remote islands across the globe often have limited and/or poor internet connectivity, a factor that is exacerbated by natural disasters and the ongoing effects of climate change. One major challenge small islands, like St. Kitts and Nevis, face is also the development of a comprehensive strategic framework and plan for ICT in education, which is where UNESCO can be able of great help”.
Minister Hanley outlined the direction of travel adopted by the St. Kitts and Nevis Government in addressing the nation’s educational digital gaps by underlining that, as a priority, the Federation had “embarked on an ambitious scaling-up of its national education policy framework aimed at professionalising the teaching force”.He further stated, “Foremost in my mind, as the Minister of Education, is the need for smart technologies to be assumed but requiring ‘a human-in-the-loop’ namely, the teacher. In current conditions, digitalisation systems in education should remain hybrid and involve human intervention at a certain point in the process”.
Minister Hanley believes that going forward we will have to consider the concurrent review of how digitalisation and artificial intelligence could potentially work in harmony with human intervention.
We must constructively examine, with UNESCO’s assistance, how artificial intelligence, robots, and blockchain could be deployed to transform how we teach, learn, and run schools. School closures forced us to indeed ‘dip our toe into the digital pond’, and now we must work diligently and in a more systematic and structured fashion to take that further proverbial leap from remote classrooms to smart ones.
Citing the virtues of digitalized education tools being developed with some promising potential for small island states, to include detecting the knowledge gaps of students and diagnosing the next relevant steps for students’ learning, his Ministry would focus on the already identified areas in need of immediate remedial action arising from the 2016 UNESCO strategic review of St. Kitts and Nevis’ education policy. These covered areas like the development of a framework to guide the integration of ICT into teaching and learning, in both the curriculum itself and the classroom, inconsistent availability and reliability of appropriate software and hardware to support ICT integration and insufficient infrastructure in schools to accommodate the use of laptops in the classroom – even if practically all students are provided with laptops.
“All these factors cumulatively result in a perception of sub-optimal success in the use of digitalisation in the current education framework, issues which we need to address immediately,” explained Minister Hanley.
Minister Hanley urged the timely intervention and assertive role of UNESCO, and its partners, in working with Caribbean governments to develop a policy framework that is adapted to the digital transformation of the education sector in the region.
Commenting on the intervention by Minister Hanley, the National Commission Secretary General, Ms Dorothy Warner, stated that St. Kitts and Nevis “stands ready to roll out a UNESCO-led platform for the digital transformation of education in the small island states in our region”.
Minister Hanley was joined on the UNESCO digitalisation of education panel at the High-Level Opening session by H.E. Mr. Wavel Ramkalawan, president of the Republic of Seychelles, the Hon. Privind Kumar Jugnauth, Prime Minister of Mauritius and H.E. Fatumanava-o-Upolu III, Permanent Representative of Samoa to the UN and Chair of the Alliance of SIDS, in New York.
Zulmira Rodrigues, Head of the SIDS Section at UNESCO Paris, stated:
“UNESCO greatly appreciated the pragmatic and lucid assessment of integrating digitalization of the Caribbean islands’ education framework outlined by Minister Hanley in his speech. UNESCO will engage with St. Kitts and Nevis in taking up its offer to act as a catalyst in mapping out a UNESCO-led digitalization of education framework for the Caribbean region”