Aug 26, 2008
Time to visit Jamaica. It seems a long time since I was Manager of the Jamaica Country Programme, back in 2004. I got to know...
Time to visit Jamaica. It seems a long time since I was Manager of the Jamaica Country Programme, back in 2004. I got to know Jamaica as a beautiful island, with spicy food and spicy people. I cycled around the island, walked the Blue Mountain, famous for its coffee, and drank cocktails once stirred by Tom Cruise at the Blue Lagoon, and gained a price in moving to the groove of Dance Hall. Off course in all assisted by my colleague Denise Clarke. I learned that indeed all Jamaicans are creative and full of ideas. I also learned that implementation of ideas in Jamaica is a complete other ball game: less practised. This resulted in many project ideas, with few implemented.
Now back in 2008, some good surprises were waiting. First, yes o yes, the Agriculture Business Information System (ABIS) project by the Rural Agriculture Development Agency (RADA), an executive agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, providing farmers with production and market information through, is in full swing. Since I left, over 100,000 - or 40% of the total - farmers have been registered in the database, and increasingly production details are updated www.abisjamaica.com.jm. Recently, extension officers are equipped with Blackberries to collect data in the field. The database will serve to inform extension officers and farmers on better production methods, what fertilizers to use where, and so on. Also, as the number of participating farmers has grown so fast, it can provide insights in production and assist in better forecasting of national production and movements in the markets. This is really nice, particularly now also the Jamaican agriculture sector needs to boost local production to counteract the sharp price rise in imported food products.
Second surprise is that the old project team of an ambitious education project started in 2000 is now spear heading a national million programme that introduces ICT in all secondary schools in Jamaica, under auspices of the Ministry of Telecommunication and the Ministry of Education. The initial pilot project, the Instructional Technology Institute , was started to develop interactive learning materials by three leading educational institutions in Jamaica. At that time, the project could not fully flourish lacking experience in this complex area, and with insufficient awareness yet in the Ministry of Education. This has changed now, in a meeting with Minister of Education and the national network ICT4D Jamaica, it became clear that the government is now fully into ICT for education. Nice to find out that the pilot project did generate a group of experts in the field, now leading this national programme. Director Avrill Crawford, former director of ITI. tells us: “Currently in Jamaica, while voice telephony has achieved practical universal access, there is relatively low demand for access to data and data-related services due to the relatively low level of education. This is a major hurdle to the creation of a knowledge-based society, critical to global competitiveness. The Ministry of Industry, Technology, Energy and Commerce (MITEC) is collaborating with the Ministry of Education and Youth to implementing the e-Learning Project in grades 7-11 in all approx. 165 high schools in Jamaica and utilizing information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance the teaching and learning processes and improve the level of passes in the school-leaving examinations”.
As for the IICD support, we work with national ICT4D Jamaica network, focusing on knowledge sharing and policy influencing. They have become a vibrant and recognised network in Jamaica, and have been able to find co-sponsors of the network, one being the Heart Trust/NTA , the national teacher training organisation in Jamaica. Heart Trust/NTA supports with office space and partial time of the network coordinator. Apart from a very professional website, the network published a connectivity study and case study booklet .(They also achieved funding for an ICT-supported community centre project focused on literacy training of drop outs with highly interactive teaching materials. Another interesting activity is the ICT policy course developed for practitioners.
Well, as you can see, much is achieved by the partners in their own Jamaican way. Good thing of this is that it provides some time to enjoy the other good ol'Jmacian live. I could not visit the Blue Lagoon, but in order not to forget my good local experiences, I did find time to spend an evening at Strawberry Hill, owned by Blackwell, famous producer of Bob and Bono…