With robotics, Saint Lucia schools launch new opportunities for students

By Evelyn Rupert

April 6, 2018

A small robot made of Legos rolls its way across the stage at the Grande Rivière Secondary School in Dennery, Saint Lucia, bringing with it new learning opportunities for some 240 high school students on the island.

A pilot coding and robotics initiative was launched in four Saint Lucian schools on March 28, with support from the United States Government. It falls under the aegis of the United States Agency for International Development’s Community, Family and Youth Resilience (CFYR) Program, which is implemented by Creative Associates International.

The USAID program delivered Lego Mindstorms robotics kits and laptops to the four secondary schools, which will allow students ages 12 to 13 to build their own robots by hand and then program their movements.

A highlight for launch attendees, which included USAID Mission Director Christopher Cushing, government officials, school principals, teachers and students, was a student demonstration of their coding skills. To crowd applause and excited whispers, the student-led robots successfully lifted blocks, navigated around barricades, responded to traffic signals to stop and go, and even spoke a few words.

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A student demonstrates his robot’s navigation of an obstacle course. Photos by Lydia Adjoha.

U.S. Ambassador to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Linda Taglialatela underscored the importance of science, technology, engineering and math education to the region and its children.

“Education is the key to unlocking potential and is vital in creating a society that offers young people opportunities to excel at the highest levels,” she said. “This new robotics initiative … reflects our commitment to advance innovation and to bring excitement into the classroom.”

In her address to the audience, Gale Rigobert, Saint Lucia’s Minister of Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development, said that the initiative will allow schools to prepare students for an increasingly tech-driven economy.

“This computer coding and robotics pilot program is a very exciting and meaningful endeavor for the ministry,” she said. “We live in a digital world … Our students, therefore, if they are to maximize on the opportunities available in this information age, or in a knowledge economy, or e-economy, must be outfitted with the skills that will enable them to do so.”

In addition to providing schools with the required hardware, CFYR also assessed school information and communications technology infrastructure, developed the curriculum and trained educators and volunteers on how to teach the material. The program is expected to reach 240 high school students, and the ministry hopes to formally incorporate it into the school curriculum in the future.

The program is also benefitting from a partnership with Caribbean-based telecommunications company Flow, which increased bandwidth and Wi-Fi coverage to the schools to improve students’ internet access.

Developing skills for work and life

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U.S. Ambassador Linda Taglialatela chats with students at the event.

USAID and the CFYR Program are working in Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis and Guyana to support family networks, communities, service providers and government agencies in implementing successful approaches to reduce crime and violence and increasing opportunities for vulnerable youth.

The program focuses on positive youth development, including social and leadership skills training, workforce readiness initiatives, community activities and activities to challenge gender norms.

Chief of Party Debra Wahlberg said in her remarks in Dennery that coding and robotics not only introduce youth to a valuable technical skill, but also contribute to positive development in other aspects of their lives, ultimately building school engagement and resiliency.

“The program is intended to promote positive behavior change among students, keeping them engaged and excited by formal education, while providing them with a usable skill which they can build on towards graduation and beyond,” she said. “USAID, through its CFYR Program, will continue to support the communities we work with in Saint Lucia in innovative ways that will have a strong and positive impact on families and communities, and build resilient youth committed to personal growth and development.”

Minister Rigobert said she is excited to see how the students grow with the curriculum, which she said has the potential to develop skills like critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, teamwork and self-confidence.

Speaking directly to the students gathered at the event, Rigobert added:

“I wish to urge students to make the very best of this opportunity. Some of the equipment supplied through this USAID grant will no doubt be very exciting to students. However, it is important that as students, you focus on learning as much as you can. What you learn today, may well help to set you on the path of your future career.”

With reporting and editing by Kathy McClure in Saint Lucia.

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