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Shamika’s CSEC super software

By RICHARDSON DHALAI Monday, August 18 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Dr Fayad Ali and Shamika Henry....
Dr Fayad Ali and Shamika Henry....

A DESIRE to win the war of the “digital divide” is the reason behind establishing the computer mathematics software which blind student Shamika Henry used which saw her securing a Grade 1 in Mathematics last week.

Henry, from San Fernando, copped the distinction in the 2014 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations. Henry was introduced to the programme by the software engineer, Raj Ramdass, who designed the software. The programme uses a voice software to voice the mathematics problems and solutions, which were prepared by mathematician Dr Fayad Ali and Shereen Khan, a retired curiculam co-ordinator in the Ministry of Education.

In an interview yesterday, Ramdass, a past assistant Information Technology head at the former San Fernando Technical Institute, spoke of what he describes as a “digital divide”.

He explained, “When you have three boys, you don’t talk their language. Getting your children not to play digital games is a stupid thing. So, what we have to do, is a transition to what they are doing in the digital world. A serious digital divide exists between the teachers and the students and to expect a child to go into a classroom and listen to you chalk-board teach, is no different from living in a prison. But if you can speak their language and use virtual manipulatives and videos, then educational gaming is supposed to be a normal part of education. It’s not that we are going to win the war, but we just change the side they playing for.”

Ramdass explained that the term “manipulative”, refers to items that students use to support hands-on learning, such as markers, toothpicks or coins. The software, he said, uses virtual manipulatives to teach mathematics. They include base ten blocks, coins, blocks, tangrams, spinners, rulers, fraction bars, algebra tiles, geoboards, geometric plane, and solid figures.

As for Henry, Ramdass said, the software was designed to suit her visibility impairment, with a voice-over-technology. Ramdass said, “The software that Shamika used is the same software that went out to all of the students. It has voiced over by Dr Fayad Ali, so he actually explains the solutions and it really worked for Shamika. How well the explanations were, she related to that, and because it was such a good audio, she didn’t actually need to see the manipulatives.”

Ramdass further explained, “What we had to do was reformat and do some additional programming on the interactive part which is the multiple choice questions. What was also done was a textbook, an e-book, with reading software that reads the computer screen, so when she opens a page, the page is read to her.”

Voice-over is a production technique where a voice—that is not part of the narrative — is used in a radio, television production, film making, theater, or other presentations. The voice-over may be spoken by someone who appears elsewhere in the production or by a specialist voice actor. It is pre-recorded and placed over the top of a film or video and commonly used in documentaries or news reports to explain information.

flipping e-books are educational or instructional books in digital form.

Asked about funding for the programme, Ramdass said that his company which designed the software, RSC International, is based in Penal and has entered into partnership with several other organisations to promote the software.

He said that RSC International has conducted the project in communities like St Barbs and Laventille. Ramdass said, “In 1997, we were one of the first outreach to schools programmes. We used to put laptops in vans and go to remote areas like centres in Cedros and Sangre Grande, team up with other organisations and have computer training as outreach programmes.”

Ramdass reiterated the need to bridge the gap of the digital divide. He said that the software would be used for other subjects.

The software was borne out of a study that was conducted in 2013 at Union/Claxton Bay Secondary School, in which only three students had passed mathematics out of 80 students. Ramdass said that 19 students were invited to participate in a two week- programme using the software and after that, 11 students passed maths. Ramdass said, “It’s more a huge partnership and we are hoping the Ministry of Education buys into the concept and really takes the ball and runs with it.” Ramdass said that his company has successfully partnered with the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) and the Community Service Police (CSP) to develop and implement training facilities in “hot spot” areas. To date two centres have been opened ( St Barbs and Gonsales)

RSC has developed a holistic model that includes Mathematics, English, IT, Life Skills, Soft Skills and a series of economic self-sustenance programmes.

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