The Laptop Scandal

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 18, 2015

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI was at Maloney on Wednesday evening when Dr. Keith Rowley analyzed the Government’s laptop program. Dr. Rowley did not have to do much work since he read from a document that pointed out the introduction of laptops and the incorporation of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) in our schools “had no statistically significant impact on student performance.” It also found that staff and student groups registered “a relatively high dissatisfaction with the provision of internet service” and the implementation of the laptop program.

Dr. Tim Gopeesingh, the minister responsible for this fiasco, responded to Dr. Rowley’s criticism. He contended that Dr. Rowley used the findings of one research study; that laptops were being used in schools in many other countries; and that two years ago that President Obama “asked for IT companies to give support for IT to be included in underprivileged schools in the US…and ten companies gave over $100 million each” (Express, August 14).

Asking companies to give support for IT programs as President Obama did is not the same thing as giving out laptops to every student in a school. The internet is simply a global system of interconnected computer networks from which all kinds of information can be accessed. Giving each child a laptop is not necessarily inconsistent with acquainting a student with the use of the internet although such an acquaintance does not necessarily lead to better educational outcomes.

Dr. Goopeesingh then informed us that two years ago he went to a conference attended by 102 ministers of education. He says two important considerations emanated from that conference: “If ICT is left out of education, the country would be left behind; b) student-centered development was [he should have said “is”] critical.” ICT is defined as all technologies that are used for the handling and communication of information and include, among other things, computers, audio-visual systems, the internet and virtual learning systems.

This is not a response to Dr. Rowley’s concerns. In fact, Dr. Gopeesingh indulges in what is called an association fallacy; a belief that one can refute another’s position by pointing to meaningless associations. Any educator worth his salt accepts that knowledge ICT is critical to student’s education but that was not the argument Dr. Rowley’s and the author of the study made. They argued that little educational value is derived from the use of laptops in our schools, a point the author supports with overwhelming evidence gathered from a study that was conducted over a year.

One would have thought that after five years of this highly-publicized educational intervention the Ministry of Education would have conducted its own study to find out how teachers have been using this tool and how it has advanced the education of our students. But this was not the case. The Minister can produce no evidence to substantiate the educational value of giving out laptops to Trinbagonian students.

Between 2010 and 2013 our Government distributed 54,329 laptops to our schools at a cost of millions of dollars to our taxpayers. Yet, after this tremendous expenditure the minister cannot make a coherent argument-either by way of empirical data or reasoned argument-to disprove the truth content of the researcher’s conclusions. It’s not good enough to say that it is one of “hundreds of research papers” on the subject matter without citing another such study.

The minister of education-and his entire staff-should be able to come up with a coherent response to criticism made by the researcher about the shortcomings of this program. While the study upon which Dr. Rowley drew involves a small sample of students, can the minister cite any study that was done in Trinidad and Tobago on this program? Can the minister even tell us how effective this program has been within the context of our students’ education?

It might be helpful to remind the minister of the words of Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General: “Technology can be a powerful education multiplier, but we must know how to use it. It is not enough to install technology in a class room-it must be integrated into learning.”

It is a lesson that Dr. Gopeesingh and the PPP, in their haste to outdo the PNM, forgot to consider when it implemented its laptop program. The nation is now paying for it.

18 Responses to “The Laptop Scandal”


  • Sometimes I wonder how people describe themselves as leaders, the author of this article included, and cannot understand basic concepts.

    To bring T&T into the modern world, where everything is computerized, the country has to be computerized. With the level of financial resources available to the ordinary man that ordinary man is left behind because he cannot obtain a computer and so his/her children do not have access to a computer. With children being provided with computers in school they will be computer literate by the time they leave school. This is called investing in the future of the country. If you want returns in two years then invest in the stock market.

    When one goes into a government office there are ledgers and not small ledgers. And when one person leaves the ledgers in their office and calls in sick for the period they are out sick no one can get to the ledger. Computers are different and the information would be available to other workers in the office.

    Maybe this is just electioneering otherwise this whole article and the ideas presented are idiotic.

    Give everyone computers and we can all move forward. Don’t give everyone computers and only the rich people move forward because they can afford computers.

    • Al,
      If you are taking this discussion from political standpoint, then you will always disagree. Come off the political stage for a while.

      “With children being provided with computers in school they will be computer literate by the time they leave school.”
      This was not initially the case. They were provided laptops, period – something like a gift. There was no programme for use in the school’s curriculum. Teachers were not trained, parents were clueless.

      It was determined that this computer gift does not extend towards the actual computer education of our children. Take a look around and see for yourself how many first year students are actually required to take computers to school. What about year two and upwards? If little Timmy’s computer becomes in-operable, lost or stolen, in the first month of school, then what?

      Public opinion is that the Government is putting tax-payer’s money in their friends pockets. If your response is not political, then I suggest you do some checking, and see what our children and the nation are getting from the million of dollars being spent.

      • Well you can take the cow to the water but you can’t make it drink.

        And I know that with all the cars on the road most people can’t drive. Even those with cars can’t drive. But there are mechanics and body people etc. etc. So eventually there will be a whole industry around the computers and the literacy of the country will rise.

        You want politics well come on who benefited from all the substandard buildings around T&T?? Or maybe we just waiting to bring back Mr. Hart and company.

    • You are missing the point Al.
      1) You DO NOT have to give every child a computer to “bring T&T into the modern world” as you said it. You need to put computer labs in ALL schools.
      2) The school should have a stock of Lap Tops/ Tablets for teahcers/ students on projects etc.
      3) I have 2 children that entered secondary school in the last 5 years. They attend a prestiege school in POS, and there is NO policy from the MOE for the use of the lap tops given.
      4) Before the laptop policy came into effect we had in my house – a desktop manufactured in 2005/6; and a laptop (2010). We then got 2 government laptops; that made 4 computers. During the lastt 5 years we bought cellphones which access the internet, and a tablet (Kindle). So one household ended up having 4 computers; 4 cellphones, and 1 tablet that could access educational data over the internet – 9 Devices.
      Of the 9; the Govt laptops are the only ones inoperable now. Did we need them? NO!
      5) If those lap tops cost 5000 each, that money would have been better spent on my children’s school. 10 “grand” would have gone a long way buying Flash Drives; printer ink etc, than being wasted in this manner.
      I must conclude by disagreeing with your opening remark, and if I were to agree I would say the main perpetrator of “False-Leader” claims is undoubtedly the Prime Minister – who has championed this failed policy, inspite of advice that her policy is doomed to fail the students.

      • So now the idea is to pick and choose who gets computers by some means testing that has not yet been decided on. And all of T&T would be happy with that?? Come on we want to have a mate and we want to have a house and we want to have etc. etc. but we want it to be all given to us because when you start given we want everything. Only in T&T.

        • I don’t know where I lost you but YOU are misssing the point.
          And please don’t be confused – the point here is the we did not need, nor want the laptop in 2011, 2013 or now. In fact my wife wanted to give back both the same day we received them. You see there are many parents who have realised that the laptop is more of a hinderence than a help. So speak for yourself with regard to handouts – for example: If my children have used 5 books from the textbook rental they have used plenty – I buy almost all of children’s books. Most importantly though, and back to the point – the laptop policy is a FAILED educational policy.

          • I DO AGREE WITH YOU RAASTAAMAN TOTALLY. THIS LAPTOP SCHEME WAS A FAILED UNC PROJECT FROM THE START. AS WE USED TO SAY IT WAS A NICE TO HAVE WITH NO POLICY ATTACHED TO IT. I WORKED WITH MANY ENGINEERS WHO WERE VERSED WITH THE COMPUTER GOODS BACK IN THE 90S AND EARLY 2000S AND THEY FAILED AS ENGINEERS TO SOLVE PROBLEMS AS THEY DEPENDED ON WEAK COMPUTER SOLUTIONS THAT LACKED ENDLESSLY IN VIABLE SOLUTIONS. PEOPLE FORGET THE ORIGINAL STRATEGY OF COMPUTERS THAT STARTED WITH FORTRAN BACK IN THE 70S WAS TO CUT DOWN ON TIME SPENT ON A PROJECT. THE AIM WAS TO DO REPEATATIVE THINGS FASTER ESPECIALLY. TYPICALLY THEY WORKED IN ENGINEERING EQUATIONS WHERE CONVERGENCE WAS NEEDED SAVING TIME CONSUMED. BUT THE STUDENTS OF THE DAY FELL ASLEEP ON THE USE OF THEIR BRAIN WHERE SOLUTIONS WERE CONCERNED. I BECAME A ROOT CAUSE SPECIALIST OVER THE YEARS ….AND YOU KNOW THE TYPE OF TRINIDADIAN THAT MUCHED UP THE COMPUTER. I DO NOT WANT TO START ANOTHER WAR WITH THEM BUT THEY STILL FEEL THEY REACHED. WHERE TO….HMMM. THEY HAVE NURTURED SO MANY PROBLEMS AMONG THEIR PEOPLE IT IS NOT FUNNY ANYMORE. THERE ARE FAILED LAWYERS, DOCTORS, ENGINEERS, BUSINESSMEN, LEADERS, ECONOMISTS ETC.,FROM THAT GROUPING TODAY IN T&T. I LISTENED TODAY ON POWER 102 BREAKFAST SHOW WHERE THE KNOWN PNM PERSON ON THE PANEL ASKED THE BIG PAPPY ECONOMIST ABOUT THE 1200 PNM THAT CROSSED OVER INTO SAN FERNANDO EAST TO SAN FERNANDO WEST WHICH HE PREDICTS IS NOW NOT A MARGINAL SEAT…SO ARE WE SAYING IT IS NOW A PNM SEAT AND THE STUPID ECONOMIST IS SAYING I AM NOT SAYING SO….THEN WHAT IS THE ARSE WOULD HAVE US BELIEVE. AS DR ROWLEY SAYS THEY THINK ALL AH WE ARE PLAIN STUPID WHEN THEY TALK THEIR BILDGE. THE UNC HAS FAILED US IN SO MANY AREAS …HENCE THE DISTRACTIONS THAT THEY TALK AND PURSUE ALL THE TIME ARE REALLY NOT WORKING FOR THEM ANYMORE. THE TRUTH ALWAYS PREVAILS. EVEN THE GIPSY ISSUE….HE HAS DONE ALL HE CAN TO SAVE THEIR PARTY…BUT THEY JUST DO NOT UNDERSTAND…CORRUPTION JUST DOES NOT CUT IT ANYMORE. INSTEAD HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF…BIGTIME. IN 1986 PNM LOST ON CORRUPTION. IN 2002 AND THEN AGAIN IN 2007 DESPITE VOTING SPLITTING WITH THE COP , UNC LOST ON CORRUPTION ISSUES. AND IN 2015 THE WRITING IS ON THE WALLS. THE MAJORITY OF THE ELECTORATE JUST DO NOT TRUST THEM WITH OUR TAX MONIES ANYMORE. THE REAL ISSUE IN THIS ELECTION IS HOW ARE WE GOING TO MANAGE WITH DIFFICULT TIMES AHEAD. WHOSE HAND THE UNC ARE GOING TO GREASE NOW AS THE COUNTRY WILL GO THROUGH SOME VERY UNSTABLE YEARS. THEIR LEADERSHIP IS WAY TOO WEAK COMPARED TO DR ROWLEY WHO FOR STARTERS IS NOT A MAXIMIN LEADER AS SHE IS.

          • I am not lost. What we want for ourselves doesn’t mean it is what everyone else wants. Or for that matter needs. I also put my children through school and every school required computers. The work that had to be done not only needed computers for putting the work together but for research needed for the very work.

            And I don’t think it is a failed policy. It could be considered an understood policy or an unimplemented policy. Either way every policy change must have a first step and with a bureaucracy, especially one as difficult as any policy in T&T, will take a while to have complete implementation.

            You should let your friend know how to turn off the cap lock.

  • The removal of corporal punishment by Kamla as Education minister in the Panday government in T&T caused great concern at the time. The long historical debate over the physical discipline and punishment of children arose from different perspectives on appropriate forms of child rearing and pedagogy. At one end of the spectrum were adults and educators who believed that social order, good behaviour, and moral development required the regular use of disciplinary instruments such as the rod and the strap. At the other end were those who felt that physical discipline constituted, or would lead to, the abuse of children. I believe that today most educators and parents would agree that removing the strap was a desirable move.
    The introduction of laptops in the schools has caused another debate which is being extended by Cudjoe. The benefits of computers for students are well known. While laptops may present opportunities for distraction, utilizing portable computers in modern classrooms can yield several significant benefits: computer skills, note taking, keyboarding, fun, organization, research, communication, etc .The list of benefits is quite extensive.
    The UWI research cited by Cudjoe and Rowley is correct if education is defined as curriculum and book learning. The laptop program in T&T is basically in its initial stages. The task now is to integrate the use of laptops with classroom curriculum and learning. This is not an easy task as most First World countries are still struggling with successful integration. In spite of these drawbacks the benefits of moving forwards with modern technology cannot be denied or delayed. When the strap was removed, there were few disciplinary measures in place for educators. The disciplinary system has evolved successfully in schools without the use of corporal punishment. I believe that the use of technology will similarly improve with more sophisticated integration with the curriculum resulting in improved student learning. In the meantime let us avoid confusing political posturing with educational outcomes.

  • The heading ‘The Lap Top Scandal’ and the term ‘meaningless associations’, I would say is questionable, the term meaningful and related associations would be applicable here. Let’s give Jack his jacket. The intent by the government is good when the emphasis is on promoting computer literacy for all students. In every issue there are the pros and cons to be weighed and in this instance when people is looking at the physical development that is taking place in the length and breadth of this island they should also be cognizant of the mental development that is also required and is taking place. Every child has a fertile and impressionable mind receptive to learning. The benefits to be seen is when these children become adults and can use the honed skills in their respective workplaces.
    The approach I would have taken in the implementation of this program would have been: equip all schools with a computer lab with all IT equipment and with mobile computer carts, each cart housing about say 30 laptops. A teacher that requires to teach a program that is integrated with computer learning would sign out a cart with each student getting a laptop and working together in the class. When the teaching is completed the cart would be returned to the lab where all laptops in the cart would be charged for the next user. That ensures comprehensive teaching and in the case of math can also help the teacher to do some individual assessments on computational and problem solving skills on each student. In this instance I believe the government has put the ‘cart before the horse’. Had the government used this pragmatic approach then it can defend itself easily that the millions spent was done on a phased basis in prepping the child at school and affording independent learning for all students.
    In the case of a student who does not have the affordability of owning a laptop then this policy treats the child equally on a learning platform. If a child is absent owing to illness then that child can keep up with the school work by connecting to the homework website and keeping abreast with the school work. Also it gives the parent the opportunity to see whether their children have homework or not by visiting the website. Now, this is on the understanding that the teacher is updating frequently..
    One research paper that poses some questions on returns on investments under the umbrella of benefits is good, because that engenders further research that can be done in reference to this paper. One cannot discard the policy of the government on a political stage for mere posturing, when value addedness for such benefits of a program can be segmented under different criteria that is also time related .

  • Who made the money in the UNC government supplying these LapTops? I am a taxpayer and need to know.

  • I always thought it was a bad idea to give laptops to children in PNM held constituencies. As for the cost for the laptops and associated soft ware it was a really good deal. Cudjoe cleverly avoids the comparative cost per unit, while shouting “millions in taxpayers dollars”. In an age of technology where in developed nations everyone owns a laptop or have access to information technology, Trinidad is one of the leading nation in the Caribbean with such a powerful resource.

    Personally, laptops places the world at your fingertips but it is a scary piece of technology for the over 50 crowd. Those who are under 50 grew up with the technology. They know how powerful it is and how it is shaping and reshaping the world. For instance I have access to 20 versions of the Bible for free, I have access to newspapers across the world. I can tell you the Jack Warner story is covered globally but extensively by the British media. I have access to medical information and now uses that information to help suffering elderly people. I avoid eating too much chicken because of the feed used to grow these chicken. I have trillions of bits of education and research at my finger tips. I can go on but what was only accessible to the rich is available to the poor.
    Dr. Rowley a 66 year old grandfather is obviously scared of the technology. But for people like me I don’t have to go to a library to understand the world I live in, better yet I am connected to my family globally at the touch of a button.

    • The UNC/ PP like most non-PNM governments develop public policy by vaps, and in silos, mainly because of ignorance of Public Policy Analysis and Formulation.

      There are I.S. networks in the USA and Europe where the students connect to one or two shared CPUs. In this environment the teacher could see what All students are doing (real-time), assist or correct any student, and everyone’s work is in ONE database.
      So before you jump off on your belittling point, you should TRY to consider the point of another CITIZEN of this country. The UNC and its supporters do not own the stock of intelligence in this country – not in the least.

  • “Giving each child a lab top is not necessarily inconsistent with acquainting a student with the use of the internet although such an acquaintance does not necessarily lead to better educational outcomes.”

    Children are far better at technology today than the previous generation. But this world view that Rowley is promoting started at the inception of the laptop program. He said to Kamla “why you giving dem “duncey head” children laptops”. The schools that are excelling in education can be found south of the Caroni. The schools that are failing is north of the Caroni. The academic performance of children have improved from 2010 to 2015, that is a fact. Using those statistics one can assume that the laptop program is working well. The laptops open up a world of knowledge.

    • Children are also far more indisciplined, and are failing the society a whole lot more than in the past.
      It is indeed mostly south of the Caroni that we have this ancient thinking that life is about passing SEA for a big school, and coming in the top 100, and who win the most scholarships. I know of one prestiege school in the north where most of the scholarships are from sitting SATs, and not CAPE. The students at this shcool are well known for their leadership skills.
      What you ned to focus now on is the CONTRIBUTIONS of these so-called bright students (and their parents) to this country AFTER they were given scholarships. How many are contributing MEANINGFULLY to our society? That is what is truly important Mr. Mamoo.
      You need to understand that this is one country.

  • I think Raastaaman has a legitimate point here. Education is much more than excelling in rote learning and examinations. It is much more than having your name published in the newspapers and being ranked from one to one hundred.It is much more than having your picture with your parents and prime minister being published for all to see.
    It is about social learning, cultural assimilation,musical ability and development, athletic ability and development, cooperative learning,civics and national observances, organizational ability, morality education, skills learning, etc.

    And, congratulations to all the athletes who represented our country in China and special mention to the women’s and men’s 4×100 Relay teams.

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