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Dr Tim: More laptops for schoolchildren next year (CNC3 video included)
While Finance Minister Larry Howai has hinted at austerity measures in next week’s 2013 budget, the Education Ministry intends sticking to the People’s Partnership’s manifesto promise and will be distributing more free laptops to schoolchildren in 2013. Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh confirmed that funding for laptops was contained in the ministry’s budget proposal. Howai hinted at austerity measures in the mid-term budget while speaking at an IMF forum two weeks ago.
In the 2011-2012 budget, the Education Ministry was among the recipients of the top five highest allocations—$4.4 billion. For the 2012-2013 budget, Gopeesingh said the ministry has sought about $650 million from the Public Sector Investment Programmes (PSIP) for projects next year which would comprise about 30 per cent of the ministry’s requested allocation for 2013.
He said education would continue to form a major component of the PP’s thrust in its way forward to sustainable development and its framework is also viewed as a significant prong in Government’s poverty-alleviation structure. Gopeesingh said the ministry would continue following its five-year plan, which involved 16 areas earmarked for transformation and therefore overall transformation of the education sector.
Particular focus in 2013 would be on universal early childhood education, in which he said, T&T was a global leader. The ministry is catering in 2013 to 34,000 more students between ages three and five. Gopeesingh said the results of this programme would be in the medium to long term rather than short term. On the continued laptop initiative—part of the PP’s major manifesto promises in the 2010 general election—Gopeesingh said he had no regrets about the initiative despite the cost.
“We’ve seen a marked improvement in information technology study results,” he added. He said all 152 secondary schools have computer labs, while 134 of the 476 primary schools also have them. By the end of 2012, Government would have distributed 55,000 laptops—the purchase costing around $58 million a year—and trained 5,000 teachers in information technology. Education’s projection for 2013 is to distribute about 17,000 more.
He said the ministry’s projections for 2013 in this general category included Wi-Fi systems to improve Internet connectivity at schools and computer labs for the remaining schools which lacked it. Funding for the latter would come from the Inter American Development Bank, he added. Gopeesingh said the ministry’s budget proposal also caters for payments for teachers’ salary negotiations for the 2009-2011 period.
The allocation would also have to cater for costs to strengthen security at schools, reducing their overall security costs. Gopeesingh said the ministry planned in 2013 to introduce CCTV security camera and expand fencing projects. Tenders are now being issued for the security camera plan, he added. In 2013, Gopeesingh said, the ministry would also place special focus on character education and citizen redevelopment.
He said this was geared to reorient values away from the negative and helped students become better citizens and can also aid T&T’s anti-crime battle. Some of the programmes would involve improving students’ emotional health, with input from behavioural and clinical psychologists. The $650 million allocation from the PSIP which education was seeking is for construction of primary schools and early childhood centres. Of the 29 built so far, 24 would be completed by December, he said.
Some current work which rolls over into 2013 included assessment of primary schools, and computerisation of the ministry’s human-resource database to record its complement of 16,000 teachers and 1,000 contracted officers. Education’s 2013 plan also continued emphasis on assisting special-needs students including those who were dyslexic, autistic, and hearing/sight impaired.
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