STUDENTS of the Excelsior High School in Kingston yesterday engaged their peers from the Samuel W Shaw School in Calgary, Canada, in a friendly debate on ethical food.
What was interesting, though, was that the two groups were not even in the same room. The debate took place via a live videoconferencing link connecting students of both schools, who engaged in a lively debate that lasted for almost an hour.
The schools are part of an exciting cultural exchange programme with students in Canada as a result of an International School Twinning Initiative (ISTI) spearheaded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
The programme, which is in its pilot phase, utilises Polycom telepresence devices to deliver videoconferencing technology powered by telecoms provider Columbus Communications Jamaica Limited, operators of Flow and Columbus Business Solutions.
The launch took place at Excelsior High School in Kingston with members of the Canadian High Commission and the Ministry of Education in attendance.
An elated Denroy Bromfield, principal of Excelsior High School, said the programme will have a positive impact on local schools.
"[The programme] has exposed our students to other students from a different country. The technology behind this exercise is fantastic as they can experience the benefits of real-time learning without being physically beside each other. I am happy that ICT is being successfully incorporated in the classroom today," said Bromfield.
In commenting on the activity, Columbus' Director of Corporate Communications Denise Williams said that "the pilot programme had already raised the bar of education for other local schools across the island."
"From inception, our company has always been committed to education through technology and we have always looked at a holistic approach to teaching and learning. We believe that through this programme, Columbus and CIDA are one step closer to achieving our vision for education in Jamaica," Williams noted.
This type of technology enables students and teachers to become more culturally diverse through virtual field trips, communication with field experts, and collaboration with students in other schools to share projects and ideas.
Parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation in Canada, Lois Brown — who attended the event at the Samuel W Shaw School in Canada — described the initiative as a "remarkable journey".
"Canada and Jamaica have such good ties, such strong ties and this activity will continue to build on [our relationship]. The world has become a smaller place and we need to learn from each other and dialogue with each other," she said.
Columbus Communications Jamaica Limited has spent close to $33 million annually over the past six years to provide schools with free commercial- grade Internet and cable to create additional teaching and learning opportunities. The company also supports a host of educational initiatives, donates computers, provides access to educational hardware and software as well as offers mentoring and specific skills building instruction for schools in its Building Leaders Through Technology Programme.
Columbus was contracted as the official service provider for this project.
Marie Legault, head of aid at the Canadian High Commission; Sylvie Groulx, director general of the ISTI programne from Canada; and Sonia Robinson-Glanville, senior education officer in the Ministry of Education, all had high praises for the programme, which also involves two other local schools in St Elizabeth and St Catherine.