Phillip Paulwell’s Magic Bullets

It seems that Minister Paulwell’s scheme for getting tablets out to schools is going well. All it took was 850 million dollars from the Universal Access Fund.

In other completely unrelated news, not only are teachers to be given a four year wage freeze, but teachers past retirement age are to be sent home, never mind that much of our schools a re overcrowded.

The use of technology to undermine the rights of skilled workers is an old one. This is what the historical Luddites fought against – not technology, but the way that technology was used to destroy their way of life. This is not to say that Minister Paulwell (or Minister Thwaites) sits around plotting ways to screw over teachers. But if you fire teachers, and buy tablets, you may just get the idea that tablets can replace teachers, or supplement teachers in some way. My thesis, however, is that technologies like tablets, as well as ill-thought out social policies implemented by Phillip Paulwell will have the effect of dis-empowering skilled workers, as well as other unintended consequences that are worse than the problem that it is intended to solve.

This is one of the main problems with technocrats (not that Paulwell can be thought of as a technocrat) – they believe that any social problem can be solved with the right technological bullet.

Take for example our energy situation. Jamaica’s electricity price is currently 40 US cents a kilowatt, compared to 10 US cents a kilowatt for an advanced nation, and 3 US cents for Trinidad and Tobago. So he puts out an offer for a 360 Megawatt plant. Never mind the fact that we lose 23 percent of our electricity through distribution losses that occur due to heat losses, outdated transformers and theft. But that sort of thing is basic maintenance, and that is not sexy. Not like LNG barges and all that.

While we have had many discussions of various Natural Gas Wunderwaffen, what we have not heard is anything resembling an energy policy, one with milestones, 10 year goals, strategic investments, maintenance, futures contracts, energy security, that sort of things. What we have is, basically this:

  1. Get 360 megawatt LNG plant
  2. ???????????
  3. Profit!!!!!

and with Tablets?

  1. Get tablets that will make dunce students smart with pretty Flash animations
  2. ??????????
  3. Profit!!!!!

It’s rather interesting that, out of the blue, comes Energy World International – with their own Natural Gas field. Anyone who has ever paid attention to energy gets the impression some sort of bandoollo is going on, that the Energy World International plan looks something like this:

  1. Proposition dumb-ass third world technocrat wannabee with the short con , bait him with natural gas field, and build him a nice cheap plant (razor, inkjet printer).
  2. Lock the fool in with a nice natural gas supply contract.
  3. Use the fact that natural gas prices are extremely volatile, as they inevitably go up, as they have been doing over the last 25 years – the long con (the blades, the inkjet cartridges).
  4. Profit

Anyone with basic knowledge of the historic world energy prices knows that natural gas prices are volatile. They’re too unpredictable to use as a national policy especially for a nation that is perpetually starved fo foreign exchange, like ours. Unfortunately, Mr. Paulwell cannot be described as one who is knowledgeable about anything regarding energy, or education. This is despite the failure of technological strategies¬† such as Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative.

Yet, men like Paulwell continue to bang the technology drum. But technology without policy , or economic considerations is like a gun wielded by a deaf and blind man – he will just hurt himself and others, but almost always miss his target.That’s the thing with magic bullets, the guns and gunmen that use them usually have in common the fact that they both come with empty barrels that make a lot of noise.

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