Throwing Good Money After Bad - Digital Media Literacy In Action

Department of Education to Improve Internet Infrastructure

Recently the Puerto Rico Department of Education announced the start of a $15 million technological upgrade program that aims to improve the infrastructure for Internet connectivity at the island’s 1,384 schools.

On the face of it, this sounds like an awesome initiative.  And I want to believe that it IS a great thing, but the thing about knowing something, is that you can never un-know it.


Early in my entrepreneurial journal, I remember this one anecdote.  At the time I was working with a startup and their mobile learning application.  We were discussing past programs that aimed at improving the Internet infrastructure for some of the public housing communities here in Puerto Rico.  In one program, free WIFI was installed within the communities, soon after installation, it was learned that the WIFI antennas were being used for target practice.


Over the course of the last few years, I've learned that my efforts to spread FLOSS within Puerto Rico were being limited by a lack of digital media literacy, or digital literacy.  These new literacies  consist of the knowledge, skills, and behaviors used with digital devices and their content.

Within this area of practice, implementing technology projects, without an overall literacy program, is typically unsuccessful. Why?  Because, without proper education, it doesn't matter how much Internet infrastructure we throw at or lagging education system, its' impact will be minimal.

So in a way, granting teachers and students access to high-speed Internet is like granting them access to an electron microscope or particle accelerator.  Sure the potential for advanced learning is there, but without proper guidance and instruction it is unlikely.

Perhaps the most important piece of education missing is for the teachers and administrators.  As we know, most school-aged children are digital natives.  Using the new tools will be easier for them, but what about the non-digital native teachers?


Let me preface this analysis with the heartfelt wish that I am proven wrong. Let me be wrong, please, I'd love to eat these words.

First, "Danger, Will Robinson!"  Of all of the governmental agencies here in Puerto Rico, the Department of Education has the most convictions for fraud.  So all I want to say is that $15 million is still a big enough number to have a shiny new Mercedes glimmering in even the most steadfast government official's eyes.

Two, I've seen many such announcements before.  After the initial press conference, most fade from our memories and we never hear of them again.  That is, until the FBI raids and arrests begin (refer to previous point).  In between, these projects fall into a black hole and all evidence of their existence disappears.

Finally, if the infrastructure does come into fruition, it will lie fallow and be underutilized.  Woefully, the project will fall short of the project's plan. It will not result in the development of technological projects in the classroom.  It will not increase student retention and academic achievement. And finally, it will not further teaching staff skills.

In perhaps one of the oldest idioms, I will just remind everyone that "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."