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Jun 6, 2007

B.T.L. unveils plans for free internet for schools

Story PictureFree Internet for schools. It’s been the mantra of politicians across the globe ever since the Internet became the World Wide Web in the early 90′s. In Belize the concept has been tried–and crashed–once before, but today the nation’s largest telecommunications company says it’s ready to make it a reality. News Five’s Janelle Chanona reports.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
This morning representatives of primary schools from across the country participated in the official launch of a free internet programme by Belize Telemedia Limited.

Dean Boyce, Chairman, B.T.L.
“If a child is a sponge, well the internet is an ocean. There’s an enormous amount of information that’s contained within it. It’s a door to the world and everything in it for the children here in Belize. Now if you have equal access to the internet, you have equal opportunities to learn when compared with anyone else both within Belize and in other countries. Now clearly we have to guide and protect, but it is essential that we develop this equalising opportunity that the internet offers.”

According to Telemedia Chairman Dean Boyce, forty secondary and tertiary institutions as well as six primary schools are already online free of charge. But in a major expansion to the initiative, over the next two years the more than two hundred remaining elementary schools countrywide will also be able to access the service through the implementation a large wireless network superimposed on top of existing infrastructure. But Boyce admits logging on all rural schools will be challenging.

Dean Boyce
“Particularly in the more remote locations. The new national wireless network that Telemedia is going to implement, with the first phase of implementation planned for early next year will provide the core delivery system to support that free internet. This is far from being a cheap solution and to complete the project will be both onerous and expensive for us, nonetheless is something Telemedia is committing to achieving.”

Phillipa Williams, Principal, Punta Gorda Methodist
“In the past, internet was only accessible to my teachers. Now with this programme, I’m sure my students will make great benefit from it.”

Janelle Chanona
“What’s your computer lab like right now?”

Phillipa Williams
“Well right we had a lab of like five computers, but they are down so we only have two right now. So we hope by September to access some computers for the school.”

Janelle Chanona
“So you are not able to offer computer as a class to the students?”

Phillipa Williams
“Not yet. We hope to do that for September.”

The plight of Punta Gorda Methodist is not unique. The problem was recognised in 2002 when the now defunct “Internet for Schools” project was initiated by Government, partnering with the ill fated telecom start up Intelco. Officials are hoping for better results time around.

Francis Fonseca
“There is a direct link, an unquestionable link between the access the information, access to information technology, and the quality of education that our children receive.”

According to Minister of Education, Francis Fonseca, despite setbacks and austere times, his government is determined to bridge the digital divide.

Francis Fonseca
“It’s been a commitment of the Government for many, many years. It’s been frustrating that we have not been able to completely fulfil that commitment, but a part of our discussions with B.T.L. over the last few years has been aimed directly at reintroducing this programme, getting it back on track.”

“We’ve done a lot for many, many schools trying to ensure that they have the hardware to compliment what B.T.L. is doing. B.T.L. has provided some of the hardware to certain schools, but many of them don’t have the hardware, so the Government is trying to do that as best as we can.”

Part of government’s plan includes a collaborative effort with the founders of the Belmopan Computer Literacy Programme, established last September. The Ministry of Education has pledged to provide salaries for facilitators to set up computer labs in the capital city.

Hilbert Lopez, Principal, Our Lady of Guadalupe Primary
“What we are trying to do in this programme is to trying to equip eight schools in the Belmopan area with computers and as well access to the internet and we do hope for the betterment of the students attending the institutions.”

Janelle Chanona
“How are you getting the resources to do that?”

Hilbert Lopez
“We are trying, we presently have sent out proposals to different organisations. One of the biggest organisations that we’ve targeted so far is CARICOM Connect. We have sent a proposal to them and we are expecting to receive an answer by the end of this month. We have also sent proposals to other organisations. We are moving a bit slow, but we are optimistic that if not all, most of the schools will be ready by September.”

There are approximately sixty-seven thousand children enrolled in more than two hundred primary schools across the country. Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

The eleven institutions to benefit from the second phase of B.T.L. Internet in primary schools programme are Caye Caulker R.C., Our Lady of Guadalupe R.C., St. Peter Claver, P.G. Methodist, Queen Square Anglican, Sacred Heart Primary, St. Ignatius Upper, St. Martin Government School, Corozal Methodist, Hummingbird Elementary, and El Shaddai Seventh Day Adventist Primary School.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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