Digital Skills Needed For Caribbean To Stay Globally Competitive

The digital era is here to stay but many still lack the skills needed to get ahead in the Internet economy.

A 2017 CIGI-Ipsos survey on Internet security and trust found that a significant percentage of Internet users do not trust the Internet enough to conduct financial transactions online. Even among those willing to embrace digital commerce, many face another barrier: digital literacy.

Rhea Yaw Ching, executive director of the US-based Covela Foundation, points out that the problem is more acute in Latin America and in particular the Caribbean, where an increasing number of citizens and businesses are now coming online.

“There is a direct correlation between digital literacy and financial inclusion,” said Yaw Ching, a former telecommunications sector executive.

“Sixty-five per cent of the Caribbean population is unbanked, meaning that they are predominantly cash-based. And a further 20 per cent are underbanked, meaning that they under-utilise the financial services that do exist,” she added.

What makes the Caribbean’s challenge worse is the persistent gap between the formal financial sector and the hundreds of thousands of small or micro-organisations operating in the informal economy with little access to services such as automated payments, credit cards, online banking, mobile apps or even ATMs.

“The informal economy is a key driver of the economics of most Caribbean nations. Unfortunately, the informal economy is still largely characterised by limited access to ICT services, limited access to formal financial services, and, critically, limited digital skills,” Yaw Ching said.

She added that the Caribbean still has a long way to go before it can realise the benefits brought about by the digital era.

“The key to unlocking true innovation lies in equipping citizens with the digital skills most relevant to the region and developing the financial systems and services to allow them to fully capitalize Caribbean ideas and innovations.”

BrightPath Foundation brings TechLink to T&T

BrightPath founder and executive director Bevil Wooding. Photo courtesy: BrightPath Foundation Secondary school teachers and students will be immersed in a day of technology gadgets, spacemen and science experiments when the BrightPath TechLink program comes to T&T on September 27. “TechLink combines hands-on technology training with fun-filled creative activity, wrapped into a values-based learning experience that we believe can benefit participant for life,” BrightPath Foundation executive director Bevil Wooding told T&T Guardian. In the all-day event, students will use tablets, micro-computers, drones and robots to conduct special experiments that reinforce basic principles of science, technology, engineering and math. Since TechLink’s launch in Grenada in November 2013, over 400 persons, including educators, small business entrepreneurs, young people and parents in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and Saint Lucia, have taken part in the initiative. But for the T&T edition, there is a twist. Capitalising on the interest in space experiments following NorthGate College’s success in the 2014 Cubes In Space experiment design global contest, TechLink Trinidad will focus on a suite of technology-based science experiments, under the theme “exploration: learning, developing, innovating.” “Together with our collaborative partner iDoodleSoftware, we will be hosting NASA astronaut Dr Roger Crouch in Trinidad for the TechLink event,” Wooding said. “The goal is to produce a context in which education is more engaging and interactive. Participants  will be get to be young explorers for the day. They will split into groups to tackle real-world problems and use technology and science to come up with solutions,” he said. Corporate sponsors include regional broadband-provider Columbus Communications and the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago. Rhea Yaw Ching, corporate vice president of sales and marketing at Columbus, said the partnership with BrightPath is part of Columbus’ wider commitment to investing in the communities it serves. “As more affordable high-speed Internet access becomes a reality across the region, Columbus is actively looking for opportunities to help users at every level understand how to make the most of it.” TechLink Trinidad will include an Educators Forum, designed to equip secondary school teachers with know-how and practical tools to use technology in the classroom. “While the students enjoy the chance to go deep into digital content creation, teachers will learn new and better ways to use technology in the nation’s classroom. This is technology meeting the real world. The goal here is to give a real sense of the possibility of technology being applied to Caribbean education," Wooding said. TechLink Trinidad will be held at the Cipriani College of Labour and Cooperative Studies on September 27.

Starting the Caribbean technology revolution: BrightPath and Columbus kick off TechLink in Grenada

The Caribbean technology revolution has begun.

BrightPath, in collaboration with its corporate partner Columbus Communications, has launched TechLink, an initiative offering Caribbean-wide community-based training in digital content creation. One hundred-plus young persons and small business entrepreneurs participated in a full day of workshops at the regional launch in St George’s, Grenada on November 30.

“Our vision is to take the seed planted in Grenada and translate it into Caribbean apps, Caribbean books, Caribbean photos, Caribbean videos, and Caribbean solutions to Caribbean challenges,” said Bevil Wooding, Founder and Executive Director of BrightPath.

He told the Guardian that TechLink will run in countries across the region from Belize to Suriname, targeting youth, parents, seniors, educators and small business owners.

“The launch of TechLink in Grenada is the beginning of a revolution in community-based technology-driven education for the region. We’re partnering with on-the ground community leaders in St Lucia, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Montserrat,” explained BrightPath Executive Director Bevil Wooding during the launch.

The old cliché is that technology, by itself, solves nothing. But TechLink aims to demonstrate how, when coupled with effective leadership and directed at real human needs, technology can change the fortunes of a whole region.

“TechLink is about linking real people to real opportunity by exposing the practical application of broadband in terms that people can relate to in real life: creating and sharing content, tapping into essential information and services or even expanding markets for online businesses,” Wooding said.

In that sense, the programme has less to do with technology and more to do with the value of the Caribbean content, said Rhea Yaw Ching, corporate vice president of sales and marketing at Columbus.

“History has shown us that delivering fantastic speeds at affordable prices doesn’t necessarily translate in people’s minds to any real value until they make the connection on how that ultimately makes their lives better. That’s the hope of TechLink.”

Columbus subsidiary Flow Grenada recently upgraded their residential broadband packages and now boasts speeds up to 100 Mbps.

“We’re going beyond just providing the pipe, we’re helping people discover what they can do with it,” said Yaw Ching.

“We are a creative people, and the opportunity is ripe for that creativity to be more fully expressed in our digital space,” Wooding said.

TechLink opens a path for Caribbean digital development

Grenada will be the first Caribbean country to benefit from a technology training initiative designed to train communities to take advantage of Internet, mobile and computer technologies.

TechLink, an initiative of BrightPath Foundation, is staged in partnership with Columbus Communications. The programme is designed encourage participants to apply their knowledge to innovatively address local needs.

Rhea Yaw Ching, corporate vice president of sales and marketing at Columbus, said the company “sees its support of TechLink as an important statement of how serious and committed we are to positively impacting the communities in which we do business".

The programme comprises a series of hands-on workshops and training seminars that specifically target young people, women, entrepreneurs and small business owners. Over the next several months, the programme will expand across the region with initiatives targeting parents, seniors, and even young children.

"At the end of the day, it is imperative that we all work together to ensure that the Caribbean stays ahead of the curve with regard to adapting technology for our benefit and the growth of the region," said Bevil Wooding, Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation.

"We are grateful to have the support of Columbus for this exciting initiative. I am confident that together, we can foster the development of more digital content and Caribbean innovation.”

The programme will kick off in St Georges at the Grenada Boys Secondary School on November 9th with a formal launch scheduled for November 23rd. Gregory Bowen, Minister of Communications, Works, Physical Development, Public Utilities & ICT, has been invited to deliver the feature address at the opening.

Through the Columbus and BrightPath partnership, the TechLink initiative will be rolled out throughout the Caribbean to encourage young people, parents, educators, small business owners, and other groups interested in technology-enabled innovation to deepen their skills, develop more local digital content and exploit new opportunities.

Anyone interested in attending the Grenada TechLink workshops may register online here or by email to techlink@columbus.co, or by calling (800-FLOW).