When institutes of higher learning were first historically established in the Caribbean region, their purpose revolved around the economic mainstay at the time. This was agriculture. An example of this was Trinidad and Tobago’s University of The West Indies emerging from the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture.
Post-Independence, as true tertiary education establishment, they then fortified their positions in the humanities and sciences to meet a holistic vision. Yet, as we develop into the 21st century, our needs and vision for the region should evolve as well.
“What we’re talking about is a dedicated university focusing on the area of ICT.”
Many may scoff at the idea. Some may cite the fact that, as small states we lack the size and economic magnanimity to warrant such an ambitious project. However, in today’s world, physical resources and nation size are no longer indicative of economic might as many small, ‘economic-hub’ nations have proven. Indeed, that is in essence the crux of the issue and the prime motivating factor. Pursuing a regional center of ICT learning should be done in the interest of molding, improving and profiting from our economic potential. There is no shortage of viable skill and, rather than succumb to the ever present forces of brain drain, we should seek to tap into our intellectual capabilities for our own benefit by providing opportunity.
Take for example Amazon’s recent year long search for a second HQ. Eventually, the company settled on some locations along the US East Coast, all within range of the nation’s capital but also skilled rich urban centres. Needless to say, it’s no coincidence Amazon has settled bases of operation near the foremost centres of ICT learning on both of America’s coasts as well. Connecting the dots, it’s not hard to imagine a future where we, even on a regional scale, could potentially attract high tech investment as well. This after all, would be much welcome considering our resource based, economic mono-culture which is both volatile and prone to unpredictability.
Laying A Solid Foundation
As with any large scale endeavour, such a project should not be undertaken by a monopolised, singular force. Instead it should involve the triumvirate of state, educational and private contribution.
Therefore, why not conduct the project via multilateral state involvement as well?
A recent piece by CNN Business elaborated on the sometimes unseen but no less considerable contribution technology has made to the US economy.
To summarise things, ICT know-how and entrepreneurship by average Joes and Janes has made tech into the new foremost vehicle for social mobility. It contributes across the board be it from small scale sole traders, freelance software designers, web developers and coders to those pursuing other myriad startup avenues. The underlying variable here is the opportunity ICT provides for unparalleled innovation, even by an individual.
This, therefore, should be the cornerstone of our movement for greater ICT learning and development. That is, the wholehearted embrace of the endless possibility for innovation and advancement. Thus, we not only want a tech university for regurgitation based learning but also for critical analysis, inquiry and development. Therefore, if we want more youths pursuing tech based fields once they’re out of secondary school, we need to see more tech based subjects and learning in the classroom. This can range from making IT and at least one programming language a mandatory field of study for CXC to simply utilising technology more in the learning process.
The benefits would far outweigh the initial investment costs in this venture as, a piece from SecureEdge highlights; technology in the classroom is one of the most stimulating things for a young mind possible. It makes learning more enjoyable, lasting and exercises the parts of the mind that trigger creativity. A study from the Indian Journal Of Psychology highlights as much as well. Consequently, a suitable location and deployment strategy would need to be crafted. For example, one could pursue a centralised approach wherein a sizable, distinct school for tech based learning is established in a single regional nation’s borders. On the other hand, a more decentralised approach could also be adopted wherein, much like UWI, there are campuses and sub-campuses of this centre for learning in major territories. Indeed, in Trinidad for instance, the recent construction of a ‘South Campus’ for UWI in a very spacious and open venue near the Debe area could easily facilitate a dedicated institution for tech learning.
Benefits Worth Reaping
It’s worth noting that ICT based learning does not wholly encompass areas such as programming or being an on-site tech/admin. Indeed it also involves what Investopedia terms IMT (Information Management Technology). From a management perspective this can simply involve a business’s attempt at digitising its operations, activity and services with greater tech investment. An ICT based nexus for learning would not, in the slightest, be limited or restrictive in the scope of areas learners could pursue. With this in mind, states would do well to make it happen by courting local, regional and international investors. They can range from having a direct involvement and stake in the programmes and functioning of the school to being scholarship funders or financiers who, upon their graduation, can directly introduce and integrate students into the structure of their respective private operations.
A recent analysis by Medium raised warning flags about an undeniable reality that’s unfolding as we speak. In 2016 the global IT industry and market was estimated to have contributed upwards of $3.6 trillion USD to the global economy. This was expected to double within the next decade. Put bluntly, we’re witnessing an era of unprecedented change much like the Industrial Revolution. In the same way, we’re seeing various jobs and entire sectors becoming obsolete in the face of the ‘Digital Revolution’.
One can easily see the repercussions of this in the US and Europe as political tensions, protests and economic fortunes unravel as many of those employed by traditional, industrial jobs, now find themselves jobless or possessing unneeded skills. In this new world, small but creative startups, entrepreneurs and tech innovators will be the ones carving out their places and it would be in our best interests to prepare for, rather than play catch up with, this paradigm shift.