Teachers and Tablets – Phillip Paulwell Epic Fail

During yesterday’s (24th of April 2013) budget presentation, we saw Phillip Paulwell in an excited, enthusiastic mood, and utterly overjoyed about the prospects for the future. This therefore means that the rest of us should be scared shitless, hopelessly depressed, and in a state of total fear for the future of our children. I say the future of our children because Minister Paulwell intends for the “duncest” of them to receive 30,000 tablets. Yes even the teachers are going to tablets!  Every single student! Every single teacher!

Tablets for the Illiterate

Any reasonable person should see that the obvious problem with this line of thinking. Giving children tablets is….OK , I guess. Giving children who can’t read or write properly tablets is self-defeating and wasteful. If they can’t read or write on paper, how will they be able to so on a tablet? Of course, if the intention is not for them to be able to read or write…


There is no need to imagine this as a conspiracy against poor people. Conspiracies and plots require a small amount of secretive, highly intelligent, extremely well motivated individuals who know exactly what they want – the complete opposite of the current People’s National Party administration. But nevertheless, the result will be the same. Paulwell’s obsession with technological solutions to social problems will only further entrench poor people into the pit of illiteracy, and their richer counterparts in the slum of aliteracy.

(Insert technological solutions here) is the best thing for the kids

Technological solutionism in education has occurred many times throughout history. One need only look at America to see this ideology in action.

“I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks” (Thomas Edison). 1922

That didn’t work out too well. Same with radio in the 1920s. Television was tried in the 1940s, with the Ford Foundation underwriting the Fund for the Advancement of Education to use instructional television – by 1961 over $20 million in 250 schools and 50 colleges from Ford Foundation. Now we have arrived at tablets and laptops, like the One Laptop per Child program that was pushed by Nicholas Negroponte. There are are a number of reasons why initiatives like these fail.

  • The medium is unsuited to the message that it is trying put across.  The medium of the tablet is one that is intended to replace the textbook, and include activities like games to engage the young people. But a tablet, with its multi-colour interactive display, is by definition, best suited to the display of moving, rather than static images. And in this case the static image is the superior. The moving image is a distraction towards education.
  • Tablets are made for entertainment , not learning.  In order for education to be successful, you generally have to include the following.Prerequisites, as unlike an app, you cannot just point on a book and get into it immediately, you must have had prior education in a topic. There is no app that states that, “you must have taken app 101 and app 201 before starting.” Perplexity, as while you may get stuck while learning, no app wants you to get stuck while using it. An app makes all its features immediately accessible, without having to memorize them, as is the purpose of a GUI. With education, perplexity is a must. You will get stuck, when you overcome that barrier then you are educated. Exposition is also lost with a GUI and apps, as while a tablet can bring across exposition via MP3s and PDFs, that just makes it an inferior version of a Kindle DX. Take away continuity, perplexity and exposition, and you are left with entertainment, not education.
  • It attempts to solve deeply ingrained social problems with a technological one.

Tablets of the poor, Proper facilities for the rich

That last point, I feel, is the most important. In this case, the answer was given before the the question was asked. The question was “Why are these students failing?” The answer was, “Give them some tablets!” Had this been Campion or Hillel, the PTAs and blogs would have had been on fire. Had this been Campion or Hillel, there would have been demands for more teachers per classroom, maybe even a ratio of 10-14 to 1. Had this been Campion or Hillel, there would have had been calls for increased hours in school, one-on-one time with weaker students, regular home consultations, and surprise evaluations by the Ministry of Education, Cambridge and CSEC. But as these are poor people we are dealing with, we give them video games instead.

With regards to the poor, we have continued a caste system that locks young people in a specific level through the use of the shift system. When you tell one set of people that their children are worth 4 hours of school , and another that their children is worth six hours, then you are effectively creating a two-tier caste system that puts the less able in a situation where their latent intellectual ability can never be developed, and are never given the opportunity to achieve their full potential. And giving out these tablets will only further this caste system.

And this is the epic failure of Phillip Paulwell. For tens of thousands of young people at all age levels, the Jamaican educational system has failed them. They don’t have the skills, their parents don’t have the time, their teachers don’t have the patience, and the social workers don’t exist. For Phillip Paulwell to say that tablets can, in any way, help these young people, is as much an admission of failure, as Peter Bunting crying like a bitch. Instead one set of children being worth four hours a day, and the  other six. he instead says that one is worth four hours a day and a tablet, and the others six and good infrastructure. And until we change that that line of thinking, then, to paraphrase Larry Cuban, the poor will get the tablets, the rich will get the teachers.


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