MAPPING THE INFORMATION LANDSCAPES OF ST HELENA
A researcher from the University of Manchester is presently on the Island to work on a project running as part of the installation of the Equiano undersea cable, which will bring high-speed internet access to St Helena when activated in March next year.
Dr. Drew Whitworth, of the Manchester Institute of Education, teaches on the MA: Digital Technologies, Communication and Education programme, and in 2020-21 had as his student Gareth Drabble, of Prince Andrew School. “My research has long been focused on how individuals and communities learn to make best use of the information and technologies that are available to them,” said Drew. “When I met Gareth and heard from him about the significant change that is coming to St Helena’s information infrastructure, it seemed like a great opportunity to study this as it was taking place – and also to use the results of the research to help all Saints learn about how the cable will impact on their work and their everyday lives, for better or worse.”
During Gareth’s studies at Manchester he and Drew collaborated on a bid to the St Helena Research Institute for funding to cover the cost of Drew visiting the Island. The current visit is concerned with how Saints currently make use of online resources whether for education, business or health, what they think are the main barriers faced in accessing and making best use of them, and what are their hopes and concerns for the future broadband environment. Drew will then return in June next year and, hopefully, again in 2023 to assess how things actually pan out, as well as developing teaching materials and training sessions for local teachers and business people amongst others. Interviews will be done with key local contacts as well as concept mapping sessions being so far confirmed to take place with pupils at Pilling School, members of the Chamber of Commerce and local health and social care workers. Other schools, organisations and businesses are also being pursued to take part in these sessions.
Gareth said: “When I first saw the research competition advertised by the St. Helena Research Institute (SHRI) I was immediately drawn to it. Firstly, because some of the goals set out by the SHRI for the research namely, to understand how educational achievement changes when students gain access to unlimited internet, as well as understanding how the changes in connectivity to households and businesses will impact the socio-economic conditions and business opportunities on the Island, was directly linked to content being taught in my Master’s course at the time. Secondly, because as a secondary school ICT and Computer Science teacher I know the obstacles I face when teaching my subjects with limited internet bandwidth at Prince Andrew School. Hence, I know the enormous positive impact that unlimited, fibre-optic broadband should have on education and the many other sectors on the Island. It will, in my opinion, unlock many doors for us and ultimately bridge the digital divide once and for all.
Whilst finalising my dissertation project for my Master’s degree in June this year, I took the opportunity to both gather data for the dissertation itself as well as for the pilot study for this SHRI research. Using the special Ketso concept mapping kit, I was able to complete sessions with a group of teacher trainees, two groups of students and a group of teachers at Prince Andrew School. These sessions garnered some interesting and important findings that identified the most prominent information sources used by these groups, as well as the barriers preventing them from fully exploiting these or other sources. These Ketso sessions also revealed the new opportunities that these groups envisaged will be provided by the new fibre optic internet connection. It will be interesting to see if these findings will draw parallels with the Ketso sessions planned with other organisations and businesses on the Island in the coming weeks”.
“Having lived through St. Helena’s dial-up internet, into the current broadband system and the subsequent introduction of mobile phones and mobile internet, I eagerly look forward to what the future will bring when the new fibre-optic connection goes live. It is the next step in our digital evolution”.
Whilst on Island, as a keen fan of grassroots football Drew says he is also looking forward to attending the games in the knockout competition over the next two weekends, once he is out of quarantine. “I was in Anglesey in 2019 for the Island Games along with the St Helena team. I remember being impressed that the team had travelled so far – now I know how that journey feels the other way around…”
The project is being conducted in conjunction with St Helena Government (SHG) and the Fibre Optic Cable and Satellite Ground Station Board and is made possible through funding from the European Development Fund (EDF) 11th Round.