Why is the Caribbean still debating the importance of IT?

While it is widely known that having some IT skills is crucial in today’s world, there is a concern that it is not being reflected in Caribbean schools.
Last week, as would have been observed in our Roundup: for the week ending 6 March 2015, there were news reports on the Chairman of the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC), Sir Hilary Beckles, stressing the importance of Information Technology (IT):

INFORMATION technology should be just as important as Mathematics and English and every Caribbean citizen should know how to use a computer, says head of the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC), Prof Sir Hilary Beckles…

The CXC chairman and UWI vice chancellor stated: “Information technology should be as equally as important as English and Mathematics for our social and economic development.”

(Source: Daily Express)

In this day and age, the importance of IT should be beyond dispute. It thus seems odd that the Caribbean still needs to be convinced, per the CXC Chairman’s call.

However, the impetus for his concern was the wide disparity in the number of students who had sat the January 2016 CXC examinations in IT versus Mathematics: 1,048 students for IT; over 11,000 for Mathematics. Moreover, it suggest two things: first, IT has not been made compulsory in schools – like Mathematics and English, thus the low examination entrants; and second, and perhaps more importantly, in the CXC curriculum, IT is still a very discrete subject, which has not been – to any degree – integrated into all other disciplines.

Then and now

Starting well over 20 years, and based on the requirements of both the private and public sectors, students entering the job market had to be computer literate, and be able to use basic software applications, such as office productivity suites. Currently, basic computer literacy is no longer being specified: it is expected – even assumed. Moreover, there is now an expectation that individuals are comfortable in using and in harnessing technology – regardless of the area of their domain expertise – but which does not appear to be happening in the Caribbean.

It is thus important to emphasise that although today’s job seekers might be comfortable in using our mobile/cellular phones or smartphones, it cannot be assumed that they are proficient in using other electronic devices and in using a broad range of applications and platforms. Further, among firms, especially those that are very technology-driven or technology-dependent, there is a growing trend of shifting away from hiring individuals with specific domain expertise, such as in Human Resources (HR), and Instead recruit individuals who are proficient in technology, such those with an IT qualification.

The impetus for that practice is the fact that whilst individuals may have domain expertise in a desired area, such as HR, frequently they are not as knowledgeable and comfortable with technology or IT as some firms need them to be in this day and age. Hence the firms are flipping the script and are placing an emphasis securing tech-capable employees, and training them in what they need to know in the fields in which they are being assigned.

IT skills are essential in today’s job market

It must thus be emphasised that even if an individual, quite legitimately, does not want to specialise in IT, increasingly, there some basic tech skills that he/she ought to possess to improve his/her marketability. The main ones, which have become essential, are:

  • coding
  • cloud computing
  • big data
  • mobile
  • social media.

In summary, the Caribbean has to shift away from thinking of IT solely as a standalone subject that students can opt not to study. IT ought to be integrated across the entire school curricula, to some degree, especially now that so many Caribbean countries have been very committed to computerising their schools and have even implemented initiatives that assign a computing device to each student (such as the tablet computers in schools programmes).

As an immediate and short-term remedy, Caribbean countries and CXC can move to make IT a compulsory subject, in order to increase enrolment. A longer term but more desirable and a better approach, would be for CXC to revise all of the curricula at the high school/secondary school level to incorporate IT into all of the subjects (28+) it manages. It thus remains to be seen how CXC and Caribbean leaders and policymakers intend to address this critical matter.

 

Image credits:  Steven Depolo (flickr)

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