President David Granger: Zhang Limin, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China; Permanent Secretaries; members of the Diplomatic Corps; Principal of the Cyril Potter College of Education, Ms. Violet Rowe; Advisor to the Ministry of Education, Mr. Vincent Alexander; consultants; student teachers; lecturers; special invitees; members of the media:
I am very happy to be here this morning of course, particularly to be present in this College, which is dedicated to the memory of Robert Cyril Gladstone Potter. Cyril Potter… was born one hundred and seventeen years ago in May 1899 down the road at Grahams Hall where his father ran a school. He attended Queen’s College and the Mico College in Jamaica and became principal of the Government Training College for teachers.
Cyril Potter is one of the most eminent and talented Guyanese of all time. He wrote the words of our national anthem; he composed the most famous of our folk songs “My Guyana Eldorado”; he is a role model for teachers and it is most appropriate that this College should have been dedicated to his memory.
It was my fortune to have been taught by him about sixty years ago, a short while in 1956. So I feel particularly honoured to be here today. It is almost as if I am standing in the shadow of that giant Robert Cyril Gladstone Potter.
Student teachers, I think Mr. Hutson quoted the words of a famous Chinese proverb, so I take the liberty to quote another one and that is “Where do correct ideas come from?” And let me tell you where this idea came from – the One Laptop per Teacher initiative is an idea that arose more than five years ago.
It is nothing new and it came out of my interaction with the villagers of Aranaputa in the Rupununi Region of Guyana in October 2011 when I was running for something or the other. Five years ago, I gave a teacher a laptop and the next time I visited that village she told me how she had put that laptop to use in preparing her lesson plan. She was very grateful; she was very happy that she got that laptop and later on, as I went further south, I would try to get various devices – tablets and other laptops from friends and I would give them to teachers.
The headmistress of St. Ignatius got one, at Awaruwaunau and even the slapped Mathematics teacher of Aishalton got one. You remember him? But you don’t have to be slapped to get a laptop anymore and you don’t have to go to Aishalton you could stay right here in Turkeyen but that slapped man got a laptop for his troubles. But the point I am making is that five years ago I had decided that when I would be able to stand before you like this, I would ensure that every teacher got a laptop. [Applause.]
When I was mistakenly invited to address the 78th Convocation of the Cyril Potter College of Education in 2012, I promised every student teacher a laptop. I iterated then that Guyana could not afford to be left behind in the world of telecommunications and in the world of the education revolution, which was transforming the rest of the world. I said then, and I quote, “We shall continue to work to ensure that every student teacher and every teacher gets one laptop; whether they are in the hinterland or the coastland”.
I was still Leader of the Opposition at that time, but I did promise that if I should ever become President of Guyana I would fulfil my promise and here I am today. [Applause.] The inkling has become an idea, the idea has become an institution; the institution is now an initiative.
A conscious decision has been taken to reshape the remaining phase of the One Laptop per Family initiative into what we now have as the One Laptop per Teacher initiative and I would like to thank His Excellency, the Ambassador the People’s Republic of China for helping to change from One Laptop per Family to One Laptop per Teacher.
I would also like to pay tribute to the Honourable Minister of Public Telecommunications who only this year, in January, was asked to accept the challenge of heading a new ministry, the Ministry of Public Telecommunications and she has made a tremendous success of it and I would like to say were it not for her energy and her exertions and her effort we would not be sitting here today. Thank you very much Minister [Catherine] Hughes.
Students, teachers, lecturers, the world has entered the information age. Information and information technology and innovation are transforming every facet of human existence. ICT is revolutionising education; it is transforming the manner in which information is assembled, organised and disseminated. It is changing the way education is delivered in the classroom and much of what is taking place has been inspired by my own interaction with the citizens in all of the regions of this country.
I have told the story over and over again about residents of the village of Karawab in the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region, who have to climb coconut tree to make a phone call with their cell phones. So I told them when they go to buy a cell phone buy a coconut tree too, so they could make contact and I met someone at Sliver City, Wismar who tells me about how many thousand dollars he has to pay a week to travel from Silver City to attend University of Guyana classes. So I do not see information technology as a luxury, as an option; it is a necessity and any government that wants an educated population has look upon information technology as an obligation and not an option.
Today we speak to teachers and student teachers and teachers are the heart of the education system. They are vital to the dissemination of education of our child; they nourish the minds of our children by inculcating values and attitudes. Last night, as Mr. Hutson told you, I told the 13th Annual Conference of the Caribbean Area Network for Quality Assurance in Education that teachers are the guardians of quality assurance in education.
Education standards will decline unless there is a core of trained and qualified teachers who are capable of upholding quality assurance in education. Teachers must be prepared for the new demands of the information age. The future of education requires teachers to have fuller knowledge of ICT and to be adept at utilizing the technologies of information.
The One Laptop per Teacher initiative, which is being launched this morning, asserts the importance of education to the nation. It acknowledges the role of information in education and the value of our teachers in the delivery of that information to our students.
Teachers are essential to education and must lead the process. We don’t want the students to be ahead of the teachers and we don’t want the teachers to be left behind; teachers must become familiar with the technologies of information: the gathering of information, data storage and data retrieval.
Teachers must have greater access to ICT and its benefits and this is why we have the One Laptop Per Teacher initiative; an initiative that is the beginning of a process of ICT transformation throughout our education system; a system which embraces over a quarter million of Guyanese.
ICT education, as I have said, is no longer optional, it is obligatory; it is mandatory. Citizens of the 21st Century must be trained in ICT whatever their career. Every child, every teacher must be schooled in the computer science and it must be mandatory at this College.
My Government is committed to expanding internet access to all Guyanese. Internet connectivity, as the Minister of Public Telecommunications promised a few minutes ago, will go into every school in Guyana, every government building, every airport, every bank, every hospital, every police station, every post office, every university and as I see from the crime bulletin even the jailbirds have access – not by my doing. But definitely, I feel that every Guyanese in due course. must be entitled to have access to the information super highway.
Students the initiative that we have launched today starts the process of modernising ICT development in Guyana and we have started with our educators. Teachers must be geared to fulfil their important role in educating our students so that they can enjoy a good life in this great country.
The Ministries of Public Telecommunications and Education must be congratulated for collaborating on the launch of this initiative. The Government of the People’s Republic of China with which the Cooperative Republic of Guyana has had forty-four years of cordial relations must also be thanked for responding favourably to our request to reshape the original programme.
I commend this initiative to you and I pray God that in years to come, every single Guyanese child who passes through your hands will have access to the information super highway.
Thank you and may God bless you all.