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EL-Dorado North Hindu Primary gets ICT lab

By NEWSDAY STAFF Monday, March 4 2013

EL DORADO North Hindu Primary School created history earlier this year, not only in Trinidad and Tobago but the wider Caribbean region, by being the first school to have a library outfitted with an internet-based study/research system (known as an ICT lab) tailor made for the school’s curriculum.

The project was entirely funded by the parents of students, teachers and through fund-raising ventures. School Principal Mahindranath Maharajh gave Newsday a tour of the school’s library last week, during which he could barely conceal his pride at what had been accomplished through a partnership with the school’s staff and parents.

Maharajh paid tribute to the school’s former acting principal, now vice principal Suscilla Lackhan whose vision, he said, paved the way for what was known as the Library ICT Upgrade project.

“Before I took up duties at this school as Principal, Miss Lackhan, the then Acting Principal had already conceptualised the ICT upgrade and planning was already advanced. Miss Lackhan had able support from the project’s coordinator Pundit Shiva Maharaj, who teaches at this school and who has a wealth of knowledge in the field of ICT,” Maharajh said.

He added on May 7, 2012 a presentation of the project was made to the school’s parent teacher association (PTA) by Pundit Maharaj and an appeal made for the PTA to take an active role in ensuring the project became a reality for the benefit of the school’s student body.

“The parents’ reaction was very positive with many coming forward at the end of that meeting to promise support including monetary pledges which were later fulfilled,” Maharajh said. Fund-raising events – all coordinated by teachers and the PTA – including barbecue sales, donation sheets, cake sales and the annual school bazaar, went a long way in raising the required funds to get the project started and then see it to completion.

The project was undertaken in phases and during the 2012 July-August vacation, Maharajh, Lackhan and Maharaj began work to transform and prepare the old, unused library room to accommodate new equipment. Maharajh said because the school’s computers had been destroyed by a power surge, the library was used as a storage room.

“The reason our school’s ICT centre is one of a kind not only in this country but also the Caribbean is because we have sourced and deployed the very latest in cost effective educational hardware solutions known as ‘Thin Client’ solution. This not about computers but a device which provides the student user with his/her individual computer learning experience.

“Because there are no individual CD roms, there is no need for expensive educational CD titles. Most of the educational programmes are web-based. All 34 users in the lab are powered by two very powerful servers and broadband internet connection,” explained Pundit Maharaj.

“The server’s operating system uses an in-built internet website filtering programme to filter inappropriate materials and the lab’s teacher’s station is connected to all 34 computers so the teacher in charge of any given study session in the library can monitor the usage and modify or control content sourced by the students,” Pundit Maharaj added.

Principal Maharajh singled out CyberState Limited, an ICT provider located not too far from the school for special praise. He said CyberState provided all consultancies, design, negotiation with the vendors, implementation and technical support for the project.

Maharajh said that CyberState was the perfect ICT partner for this project, having ten years experience in providing similar ICT services and support to schools and is, according to him, the only CompTIA (Computer Technology Industry Association) A+ authorised service centre for network and server support in TT as well as an Authorised Education Reseller for Microsoft Ltd.

Pundit Maharaj said that utilising the “Thin Client” Solution reduced by 75 percent the normal cost for a traditional ICT school lab. So how does Maharajh know this ICT lab is the first of its kind in not only the TT school system but also the wider Caribbean?

“The regional suppliers of the devices and software have indicated to us that our school is the first in the region to use such technology. The ICT Program Director at the Ministry of Education has also said that to his knowledge, El Dorado North Hindu Primary School is the first and only local school to deploy the ‘Thin Client’ system,” Maharajh said.

The proud school principal said the software is interactive, easy to use and with teachers’ guidance, students from First and Second Year right up to those studying for the SEA exams can utilise the system.

“In fact, all classes at this school are mandated to use the lab at least once a week with the SEA students utilising the system whenever the need arises,” Pundit Maharaj said.

With the world rapidly evolving first from individual countries then to a global village and now to an internet-powered inter-connected global village, it is vital that students even those now entering school life, be exposed to relevant technology especially as education, knowledge and the tools to access knowledge and learning are evolving and becoming more advanced.

“The use of the internet and related educational programmes are essential in stimulating and motivating today’s children who are no longer known as ‘generation x’ but as ‘generation net’. By allowing and integrating new multi-media resources into the existing curriculum, this ICT lab will stimulate greater learning not only for the students but also teachers,” Pundit Maharaj said. Maharajh spoke of his great pride when on February 1, officials from both the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and Ministry of Education spoke highly of the school’s ICT lab when they visited the school earlier this year for the formal launch of the lab. “So much so that Maha Sabha officials said they would want to roll out the ICT system in other Maha Sabha-run schools. Officials from the Ministry of Education were also impressed, saying so in terms of tangible and intangible returns,” Maharajh said. He added that Ministry officials expressed the wish that there were more proactive PTAs within other schools across the country.

“And this is what makes me even prouder. This was a school-based project. Our teachers led by Miss Lackhan and Pundit Maharaj and the parents, through the PTA, worked together to get this project off the ground and to have it completed. We identified a need, found ways to raise capital among ourselves and saw the project through to completion,” Maharajh said. Pundit Maharaj told Newsday that all software in the ICT lab is optimised to make teaching and learning more effective and efficient. He said the server operating system software gives teachers the flexibility to use various web-based teaching techniques while at the same time maintaining total overall control of what each student is doing at each work station. “Some of the education-teaching programmes were customised by teachers and parents.

The programmes were all assessed by teachers based on sound pedagogical benchmarks and relevance,” Pundit Maharaj said. He said that the ICT lab is outfitted with a full digital security monitoring system while the school has security guards on patrol 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “And even, God forbid, there is a security breach, the devices used in the ICT lab are not functional if separated (stolen) from the system, part of which is not based physically at the lab,” Pundit Maharaj said.

“Our achievement shows that the school community is now ready and has been so for quite some time to manage its own affairs. Given the funding, we have shown that we are capable of getting seemingly difficult and technical work completed well within budget as long as we have the support of parents.

“The time has come for site-based management of schools to be paid more than lip service given the qualifications and wide ranging capabilities of principals and teachers in the primary school system today. The vice principal, who was acting Principal at the time, was able to seek the necessary expertise to refurbish not only the computer laboratory but also the school library where every book has been catalogued according to NALIS standards. “Currently we are awaiting the assistance of the the Ministry of Science and Technology through the OJT programme to procure an IT assistant and a library assistant to actually begin organised operation of both the library and computer laboratory,” Maharajh said.

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