The keyboard to success

Computers make learning fun for troubled Trinidad youngsters

The trainee becomes the trainer as this young boy helps a colleague explore the Internet after a training session by RBTT technology officers. Photograph courtesy RBTT Financial Group

The pupils of St Michael’s School for Boys in Diego Martin, Trinidad, may not believe in fairy godmothers. After all, they have been sent to the institution because they are troubled youngsters from underprivileged backgrounds.

Now, however, something new is taking place at St Michael’s, something that could transform the lives of its young charges. The change wasn’t worked by a magic wand. Rather, it was the response of RBTT Bank to an appeal for computers for the primary school from principal Kelvin Nancoo.

In keeping with its commitment to the development of young people, the bank equipped the school with a computer system that has transformed and modernised its teaching process.

“When we got this request, we decided to respond positively,” says Martin Laughlin, RBTT manager, special projects. “But instead of just donating some computers to the school, we sat down with Mr Nancoo and members of its management to determine what they were really trying to achieve.

“At the end of the day, we implemented a project over eight months that resulted in the complete computerisation of St Michael’s. As a result, a whole new learning environment was created at the school where the boys are being instructed through the use of computers.”

The transformation, of course, had to begin with the teachers in both the primary and the vocational trade schools. This was achieved by providing them with laptop computers and a two-day training course.

The second stage involved setting up two computer labs, one for the primary and the other for the vocational trade school, each with 10 desktop computers. Staff members from RBTT’s Diego Martin, St James and West Mall branches pitched in to clean up and paint the labs.

At present, some 35 to 40 boys at St Michael’s are using these labs, not only acquiring computer skills but also using the computers to do their schoolwork.

“Another benefit of this online teaching system,” says Laughlin, “is that it enables the teachers at St Michael’s to prepare their curricula and conduct classes electronically, which also helps them to monitor the progress of their students during class.”

Later on, the intention is to expand the curriculum so that the students will eventually graduate with recognised certificates.

Laughlin, who oversees the project, says the boys are also receiving training to prepare them for the workplace. Helping in this area is Amanda Jardine’s Image Matters Ltd, which recently took four boys from St Michael’s, together with youngsters from Servol, another programme for disadvantaged young people, through a two-day workshop designed to help them enter the working environment and, hopefully, a full-fledged career.

As RBTT implemented the project, the bank found other willing and valuable partners in the business community. For example, TSTT is providing Internet access and e-mail accounts for teachers and students. Trinidad Systems Limited has responded with remote and on-site technical support. And Microsoft Trinidad and Tobago supplied software. Steve Headley and Jacqueline Morris were involved in the selection and design of the system, and Dr Jeanette Morris played a major role in curriculum development and training.

Whatever the adverse circumstances, personal or domestic problems that caused the boys at St Michael’s to go astray, they now have an opportunity to get their lives back on track.

The question is, can they appreciate it, and will they grasp it? “This is the challenge they face,” says Laughlin. “However, the indications so far are very positive. The boys have gravitated eagerly towards the computers—you cannot keep them out of the labs. Now they have a strong desire to learn.”

Supporting this view, Cogland Griffith, vice principal of the school, observes: “I have seen a transformation, in boys who did not want to read and write. On the computers, learning has become more interesting and enjoyable for them.”