School internet programme's reach questioned

The rollout of an online learning initiative designed to connect students in Samoan schools to internet learning opportunities has come under question in Parliament.

Member of Parliament for Salega East, Olo Fiti Vaai, told the Parliament on Monday that based on his own investigations only two schools in Savai’i are connected to the online learning portal called the SchoolNet Project.

The objective of the SchoolNet and Community Access Project was to introduce the use of information and technology as a tool to enhance student learning outcomes.

But Olo, during debate on the 2020-2021 Budget, said the primary and secondary school in his constituency are among many on Savai’i that cannot access SchoolNet. 

“I reason why I have raised this is because nearly every budget millions are allocated for this broadband but it's not being utilised,” he said. “I don’t understand where the money is going and I ask the responsible Minister to look into this. Most of the schools have machines [computers] but don’t have wires [for internet connection].” 

In a visit to Savai’i a fortnight ago, Olo also claimed that he found out only two district hospitals on the island are using the Samoa National Broadband Highway.

However, the Minister of Communications, Information and Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupai disputed Olo’s comments and said over 200 schools in both islands are connected to the online facility. 

He said the initiative allows students to do online research and advance their knowledge on online educational materials. 

“The problem could be due to the machines being damaged or that there are not enough machines,” Afamasaga told Parliament on Monday. “The other difficulty faced by the Ministry [of Education] is that most elderly teachers find it hard to navigate on the computer and the internet platform for students.” 

But Olo took the floor and clarified that there are only two schools in Savai’i that he is aware of that have installed the technology and are connected to the project. 

He said if no Member of Parliament can attest to the Minister’s claim then it was proof that the district schools have not been activated on the project. 

The Aleipata Itupa-Lalo M.P., Tafua Maluelue Tafua, also highlighted the need for teachers to be trained in how to use the technology.

Agreeing with the sentiments expressed by Olo, he said he visited one of the hospitals and was told by a nurse that they do not know how to use the machines. 

He urged the Government to consider refresher courses to upskill teachers so they are able to understand the project and teach the students how to use it. 

In response, Minister Afamasaga noted the concerns by the M.Ps and assured that an inspection will look into the matters raised. 

He said the machines for the health sector are being commissioned and should be ready in the near future, stating the coronavirus pandemic has delayed its installation.

The project targeted schools in all 22 districts of Samoa to ensure I.C.T. access for 1,500 secondary students, aimed to develop the capacity of 800 school teachers. 

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