To kick off our Caribbean Tech Movers and Shakers series, we are featuring Dr. Kim Mallalieu of Trinidad and Tobago. Part one of our interview follows.
Beyond the personal and professional gains that we as Caribbean citizens might hope to realise in the ICT/tech space, there is a growing expectation that the Caribbean will become tech leaders, and not just remain mindless users and consumers of technology. Through this new series on Caribbean Tech Movers and Shakers, we will be highlighting some of the top tech innovators and game-changers in the region.
We kick off this series with Dr. Kim Mallalieu of Trinidad and Tobago. An internationally recognised educator – who has not only shaped almost a generation’s worth of Electrical and Computer Engineering graduates from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago – Dr. Mallalieu’s work and influence have transcended the lecture room, to telecoms regulation, mobile applications development and Open Data initiatives.
ICT Pulse: Dr. Mallalieu, you are a University Lecturer and a Scientist. What has motivated you to go beyond what many would consider a very safe and conservative construct to now be recognized regionally and internationally not just in engineering education, but also in ICT policy and regulation, and in mobile apps development?
Kim Mallalieu: I received my tertiary education in the US and the UK, with no prior plans to return to the Caribbean. The focus of my studies, from undergraduate through to graduate school, was the exploration of optical phenomena as the foundations for optical computing, holography, sensing and spatial light modulation. After receiving my doctorate, I deferred an R&D position at an optics company in Cambridge Massachusetts for one year to take up a lecturing position at The University of the West Indies (UWI) in St. Augustine. As they say “the rest is history”.
Having made the decision to settle in the Caribbean and work at the University, I was forced to plot a different disciplinary path for myself. Contemplating the context, constraints and considerable potential in the Caribbean, I set out to work in areas that are directly relevant to the needs of the region and to do so most particularly by focusing on the significance of science and engineering in Caribbean society.
Instrumentation and telecommunications were the most natural sub-disciplines based on my academic background so I began by focusing on developing and delivering high quality engineering programmes in these areas, tightly linking teaching to the needs and practices of relevant sectors. I also emphasized the role and responsibility of the engineer in Caribbean society and developed a world-view ethos of leadership amongst my students. These orientations, together with regular stakeholder consultations and monitoring of the regional pulse vis-à-vis world developments, led me, in their time, to ICT policy, regulation and mobile application development.
ICTP: Based on your observations and experience as an Educator, how has the teaching and learning, especially with respect to STEM subjects, changed over the last 20 years?
KM: Over the last 20 years, the most significant change in the teaching of STEM has clearly been the incorporation of electronic technologies. These technologies have facilitated enriched presentation, visualization, computation, simulation, virtualization, laboratory and field automation, formative and summative assessment, user generated content, engagement, document and graphics preparation, and plagiarism checking. Many profits have accrued to STEM learners from these applications of technology, generally enabling them to visualize concepts and synthesize understanding more efficiently and, in some cases, more effectively.
Yet, outside of the class room, learners have come to rely on the push feature of electronic technologies to such an extent that the tradition of working through concepts in order to mentally formulate visualizations, synthesize information and build narrative content is under threat of extinction. There is a strong and increasing trend towards satisfaction with shallow grasp and impatience, in place of dogged curiosity and insistence on depth of understanding. Technology of itself does not monopolize the blame for students’ emerging relationship with STEM and learning. It compounds the problems created by the loopholes in Caribbean academic systems which inadvertently reward regurgitation and short-term learning.
ICTP: When you developed the Master in Regulation and Policy (MRP) in Telecommunications degree programme, there were few, if any, such programmes globally that provided formal tuition on telecoms regulation in particular. Currently, the MRP programme is highly regarded, and (to varying degrees) has been replicated in other countries. However, what drove you to develop the programme in the first place?
KM: Once the communications teaching programme at The UWI was robust, I approached the regional telecommunications sector at various fora facilitated by CANTO, the CTU and the ITU to seek their perspectives on how our programme could best meet their needs. The resounding response was in the area of telecommunications policy and regulation as, at that time, the Caribbean was faced with the transition from monopolistic to liberalized markets. At that time also, there were no tertiary level academic programmes in telecommunications regulation and policy, though the University of Strathclyde offered a Master’s degree in Telecommunications Law; and the LINK Centre at the University of Witwatersrand and the International Telecommunications Union offered training programmes. There was the need for a programme which would treat, not only with relevant thematic content as covered by the specialist training programmes, but which would additionally provide the opportunity for analytical discourse and writing. Particular differentiating features of the MRP programme design was its emphasis on the discernment of authoritative sources, the development of robust arguments and the articulation of rigorous logic.
ICTP: What were some of the challenges encountered in running the programme, and are there plans to take it further?
KM: The major challenge in running the MRP was that our disciplinary expertise did not lie in the area of policy or regulation. However, our team at The UWI had the wherewithal to respond nimbly to the pressing logistical criteria for human capacity development. In particular, we were able to produce in-house facilities for online application, registration and course delivery and to gain the endorsement of the ITU. We were also able to secure the commitment of some of the industry’s finest academics and practitioners from around the world, to join us as course directors.
Within three months we secured the commitment for funding and hosted a regional stakeholders’ meeting; in less than a year, we had produced course materials; developed all human resource, administrative and technical procedures; and started delivery to our first cohort of students. Participants of the MRP(Telecommunications) programme, executives and senior personnel from the public and private telecommunications sector, hailed from thirty developing countries around the world.
The MRP(Telecommunications) programme ran for a few cohorts until such time as other academic centres whose expertise lay squarely within the thematic coverage of regulation and policy, were able to get off the ground. It was established as a special programme of The UWI to run for a limited number of cohorts to address a particularly pressing need. It was envisioned as a transition programme to hand over to more natural thematic homes. The Master’s in Telecommunications Policy and Management out of the Mona Campus of The UWI; and the Makerere University’s Postgraduate Diploma in ICT Policy and Regulation were spawned directly from the MRP (Telecommunications) programme, and drew heavily from it. Several other similar programmes around the world have also drawn on the MRP resources and experience.
Look out next week for the second part of our interview with Dr. Mallalieu …
Image credits: K. Mallalieu