Jamaica: Gov’t to spend $1.7 billion on tablets, laptops for students

The Government says it will be spending $1.7 billion to provide electronic devices, including tablets and laptop computers for some students at the primary and secondary levels.

Speaking at a digital press briefing on Tuesday, Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Fayval Williams, said students from grades four to six and 10 to 13 will receive devices.

“It was agreed that e-Learning would assume the full distribution of the 40,000 tablets and these tablets would be focused on students on the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) in our primary schools, and we will be emphasising grades four to six.

“We will be purchasing an additional 25,000 devices, and these will be targeted for grades 10 to 13, again with an emphasis on PATH students,” she added.

Mrs. Williams said the Ministry is looking at the feasibility of purchasing Chromebooks – a laptop or tablet running the Linux-based Chrome OS {operating system), pointing out that “we have asked e-Learning to do an assessment for us and to get back to us in short order”.

She said e-Learning has confirmed the distribution of tablets to 25,000 teachers.

Mrs. Williams said the Ministry will be looking to cover the Internet cost for the devices that it distributes.

“In terms of affordability, the Ministry is discussing what’s called reverse billing with the carriers for access to the learning management system, and this will be applicable to students with devices and connectivity. So the Ministry will be looking to pay the cost of students and teachers utilising the learning management system,” she said.

She reminded parents and teachers that there are many educational websites that are zero-rated; that means, they do not need to have a data plan to access those sites. “We will continue to advocate for these to remain zero-rated,” she noted.

Mrs. Williams said that the Ministry will also be looking at connectivity at community centres and churches, so that students will have additional access points in their communities.

Meanwhile, the Minister informed that the final draft of the ‘bring your own device’ to school policy has been completed and will be sent to all institutions within the next two weeks.

“The policy will provide the basis on which the Government can begin to see how best to provide financial support to students, who are not on PATH, to be able to purchase their own device with the specifications provided.

“We have been talking to several retailors, several providers, and they have indicated, as well, their willingness to provide payment plans so that parents who cannot afford the upfront cost of these devices in one shot… will be able to choose different payment plans,” she said.

Ms. Williams informed the Ministry will also continue to provide lunch and breakfast subsidy for students on PATH, through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, starting October 2020. (Jamaica Star)