Montserrat: go digital, or go bust!

Part 7/2019 (Contribution)

Why does Montserrat need to build a digital economy? (And what does the “Raspberry Pi” have to do with it?)

BRADES, Montserrat, June 21, 2019 –  Montserrat, the OECS and the wider Caribbean must now begin to move towards the digital economy. Not only is that so because digital technology is one of the key driving forces for the world economy, along with energy and the financial sector, but because of what is happening with tourism.

For one, this year, China is expected to grow at 6.3%, down from 6.6% last year. That’s the world’s second largest economy, and China and India (the sixth largest economy, growing at 7.3% – and about to overtake the UK for No. 5!) combined will contribute over forty percent of global economic growth this year, 3.3%.  By contrast the UK contributes only 1.4% and the US only 12.3% to current global growth.  By 2023, the UK may contribute 1.3% and the US, 8.5%.

Clearly, the driving force of the world economy is undergoing a major shift to Asia. That means, the coming global economic powerhouses are in Asia – half-way around the world, across the Pacific Ocean.

Oops.

Flying half-way around the world is, frankly, unappealing. So, obviously, Chinese and Indian tourists will find it far more convenient to go to neighbouring destinations, instead of regularly flying to the Caribbean. So while slow-growth Europe and North America will still be prosperous and will be sources for tourism, the North Atlantic Basin is gradually turning into a low-growth, already-been-there, saw-that, got-the-tee-shirt, mostly cruise-ship visitor driven tourism market. So, it would be a mistake to put all of our economic eggs in the tourism basket. Yes, tourism is indeed Montserrat’s fastest “quick win” driver for growth, but we have to be realistic about setting up our strategic moves beyond tourism.

The Fibre Optic Cable and a linked vibrant digital sector (preferably, backed by geothermal energy) are therefore vital for building Montserrat’s future high-growth economy.  For, the digital sector is not only the most dynamic part of the world economy but it is automatically global as well as local and regional.

First, we have to build capacity. So, ASAP, we need to develop a basic course to equip students, hobbyists, educators, professionals and everyone in between with first-level practical computer programming and interfacing skills. Perhaps, we can use something like Python[1] and the Raspberry Pi[2] low cost educational computer on a card.[3]  The Raspberry Pi also comes with “Scratch,” an early learning language,[4] and it is now possible to “go Java” on the Raspberry Pi,[5] accessing a leading general purpose computer language. (NB: Basic starter kits are currently selling for US$ 50 – 80; screens, keyboards etc. will be additional, e.g. the CrowPi “advanced” kit-in-a-case for US$340.[6] A community-based, web-connected, teleconferencing ready “computer programming lab and learning centre” will be quite affordable.)

Beyond 101 level basics, we should be studying how to do mathematical, scientific and statistical analysis[7] and we should learn to use key libraries such as NumPy, matplotlib and SciPy to solve problems.[8]   

Our core education system must also be digitally transformed. That’s what we need to help our children and youth prepare to be competitive producers – yes, not just consumers – in an ever more digital world economy.  One, where a car repair mechanic will need to understand and work with complex computerised control systems.

Yes, it’s not the three R’s any more: Reading, [W]‘Riting and [A]‘Rithmetic. As, C, S and T have now joined them: Computing (starting with programming) and Science & Technology.

  As a yardstick, here is the “key stage 1” part of a current curriculum for the UK, for 5 – 14 (and now, up to 16) year olds[9]:

“Statutory guidance

National curriculum in England: computing programmes of study

Published 11 September 2013

Key stage 1Pupils should be taught to:

  • understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices [notice, broader than “computers”], and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions
  • create and debug simple programs
  • use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs
  • use technology purposefully to create, organise, store, manipulate and retrieve digital content
  • recognise common uses of information technology beyond school
  • use technology safely and respectfully, keeping personal information private; identify where to go for help and support when they have concerns about content or contact on the internet or other online technologies”.

Yes, that would be for, say, five to seven-year olds.

The BeeBot is a US80 turtle robot digital device for early primary education that can be programmed using arrow, start and clear keys

Stage 2 starts with: “design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems.” By Stage 3, we see: “use 2 or more programming languages, at least one of which is textual, to solve a variety of computational problems,” and “make appropriate use of data structures [for example, lists, tables or arrays].” For Stage 4, we find: “develop their capability, creativity and knowledge in computer science, digital media and information technology,” and “how changes in technology affect safety, including new ways to protect their online privacy and identity, and how to report a range of concerns.”

A 2012 Royal Society study had indicated that something like this is necessary for the UK to thrive in coming decades. Here in the Caribbean, with our Tourism pool going flat, with King Sugar long since dead, with agriculture a remnant, the handwriting is on the wall for us, too.

Go digital, or go bust.

And no, this is not about creating “a strong competitive advantage” or even “a comfortably profitable niche,” this is “simply being adequate.” Either we become digitally productive and competitive or we fail (again?) economically as a region. Including, here in Montserrat.

That’s already one reason why a replacement – yes, DfID, replacement – for the optical fibre access we had in place by 1994 but lost to the volcano is so urgent. This is no longer a question of economics, but one of national survival. As, without reliable, high capacity digital bandwidth, we are locked out of the future. However, such a fibre optic cable is only the beginning.

We also obviously need to go for “low-hanging fruit,” such as call centres and back office business services. Yes, we can then use hoped-for geothermal energy to support server farms that access the Internet through our fibre optic cable. We will need to train computer technicians and people able to work with robots.  We need to develop the ability to code to do analysis, experiments and research as routine parts of our jobs or businesses. 

We need to become producers of multimedia web content for education, for entertainment, for culture, for marketing and promotion. We need to create and support online malls that sell Montserrat’s goods and services to the world. We need people who are able to create and manage required Web and Social Media marketing content, etc. We will need online journalists, as democracy is going digital. Regular streaming and podcasts are a whole new sector for our local media.

We need to produce educational materials and we must create online based schools.  We need to go for web based education and training as keys to capacity-building in schools and on the job or in the community. 

And, much more.

Most of all we must never shy away from the need for programmers, analysts and entrepreneurs. 

For, it’s go digital, or go bust.


[1]See: https://www.python.org/

[2] See: https://www.raspberrypi.org/

[3] See: https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/python-programming-tutorial-getting-started-with-the-raspberry-pi/all and https://electropeak.com/learn/tutorial-raspberry-pi-gpio-programming-using-python-full-guide/

[4] See: https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/raspberry-pi-scratch/

[5] See: https://www.voxxed.com/2015/03/code-java-on-the-raspberry-pi-part-1/

[6] See: https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/crowpi-kit-review/

[7] See: https://sinxloud.com/learn-data-science-python-statistics-mathematics/

[8] See: http://www.palrad.com/top-python-math-statistics-libraries-w-12007/

[9] See: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-computing-programmes-of-study/national-curriculum-in-england-computing-programmes-of-study

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Part 7/2019 (Contribution)

Why does Montserrat need to build a digital economy? (And what does the “Raspberry Pi” have to do with it?)

BRADES, Montserrat, June 21, 2019 –  Montserrat, the OECS and the wider Caribbean must now begin to move towards the digital economy. Not only is that so because digital technology is one of the key driving forces for the world economy, along with energy and the financial sector, but because of what is happening with tourism.

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For one, this year, China is expected to grow at 6.3%, down from 6.6% last year. That’s the world’s second largest economy, and China and India (the sixth largest economy, growing at 7.3% – and about to overtake the UK for No. 5!) combined will contribute over forty percent of global economic growth this year, 3.3%.  By contrast the UK contributes only 1.4% and the US only 12.3% to current global growth.  By 2023, the UK may contribute 1.3% and the US, 8.5%.

Clearly, the driving force of the world economy is undergoing a major shift to Asia. That means, the coming global economic powerhouses are in Asia – half-way around the world, across the Pacific Ocean.

Oops.

Flying half-way around the world is, frankly, unappealing. So, obviously, Chinese and Indian tourists will find it far more convenient to go to neighbouring destinations, instead of regularly flying to the Caribbean. So while slow-growth Europe and North America will still be prosperous and will be sources for tourism, the North Atlantic Basin is gradually turning into a low-growth, already-been-there, saw-that, got-the-tee-shirt, mostly cruise-ship visitor driven tourism market. So, it would be a mistake to put all of our economic eggs in the tourism basket. Yes, tourism is indeed Montserrat’s fastest “quick win” driver for growth, but we have to be realistic about setting up our strategic moves beyond tourism.

The Fibre Optic Cable and a linked vibrant digital sector (preferably, backed by geothermal energy) are therefore vital for building Montserrat’s future high-growth economy.  For, the digital sector is not only the most dynamic part of the world economy but it is automatically global as well as local and regional.

First, we have to build capacity. So, ASAP, we need to develop a basic course to equip students, hobbyists, educators, professionals and everyone in between with first-level practical computer programming and interfacing skills. Perhaps, we can use something like Python[1] and the Raspberry Pi[2] low cost educational computer on a card.[3]  The Raspberry Pi also comes with “Scratch,” an early learning language,[4] and it is now possible to “go Java” on the Raspberry Pi,[5] accessing a leading general purpose computer language. (NB: Basic starter kits are currently selling for US$ 50 – 80; screens, keyboards etc. will be additional, e.g. the CrowPi “advanced” kit-in-a-case for US$340.[6] A community-based, web-connected, teleconferencing ready “computer programming lab and learning centre” will be quite affordable.)

Beyond 101 level basics, we should be studying how to do mathematical, scientific and statistical analysis[7] and we should learn to use key libraries such as NumPy, matplotlib and SciPy to solve problems.[8]   

Our core education system must also be digitally transformed. That’s what we need to help our children and youth prepare to be competitive producers – yes, not just consumers – in an ever more digital world economy.  One, where a car repair mechanic will need to understand and work with complex computerised control systems.

Yes, it’s not the three R’s any more: Reading, [W]‘Riting and [A]‘Rithmetic. As, C, S and T have now joined them: Computing (starting with programming) and Science & Technology.

  As a yardstick, here is the “key stage 1” part of a current curriculum for the UK, for 5 – 14 (and now, up to 16) year olds[9]:

“Statutory guidance

National curriculum in England: computing programmes of study

Published 11 September 2013

Key stage 1Pupils should be taught to:

Yes, that would be for, say, five to seven-year olds.

The BeeBot is a US80 turtle robot digital device for early primary education that can be programmed using arrow, start and clear keys

Stage 2 starts with: “design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems.” By Stage 3, we see: “use 2 or more programming languages, at least one of which is textual, to solve a variety of computational problems,” and “make appropriate use of data structures [for example, lists, tables or arrays].” For Stage 4, we find: “develop their capability, creativity and knowledge in computer science, digital media and information technology,” and “how changes in technology affect safety, including new ways to protect their online privacy and identity, and how to report a range of concerns.”

A 2012 Royal Society study had indicated that something like this is necessary for the UK to thrive in coming decades. Here in the Caribbean, with our Tourism pool going flat, with King Sugar long since dead, with agriculture a remnant, the handwriting is on the wall for us, too.

Go digital, or go bust.

And no, this is not about creating “a strong competitive advantage” or even “a comfortably profitable niche,” this is “simply being adequate.” Either we become digitally productive and competitive or we fail (again?) economically as a region. Including, here in Montserrat.

That’s already one reason why a replacement – yes, DfID, replacement – for the optical fibre access we had in place by 1994 but lost to the volcano is so urgent. This is no longer a question of economics, but one of national survival. As, without reliable, high capacity digital bandwidth, we are locked out of the future. However, such a fibre optic cable is only the beginning.

We also obviously need to go for “low-hanging fruit,” such as call centres and back office business services. Yes, we can then use hoped-for geothermal energy to support server farms that access the Internet through our fibre optic cable. We will need to train computer technicians and people able to work with robots.  We need to develop the ability to code to do analysis, experiments and research as routine parts of our jobs or businesses. 

We need to become producers of multimedia web content for education, for entertainment, for culture, for marketing and promotion. We need to create and support online malls that sell Montserrat’s goods and services to the world. We need people who are able to create and manage required Web and Social Media marketing content, etc. We will need online journalists, as democracy is going digital. Regular streaming and podcasts are a whole new sector for our local media.

We need to produce educational materials and we must create online based schools.  We need to go for web based education and training as keys to capacity-building in schools and on the job or in the community. 

And, much more.

Most of all we must never shy away from the need for programmers, analysts and entrepreneurs. 

For, it’s go digital, or go bust.


[1]See: https://www.python.org/

[2] See: https://www.raspberrypi.org/

[3] See: https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/python-programming-tutorial-getting-started-with-the-raspberry-pi/all and https://electropeak.com/learn/tutorial-raspberry-pi-gpio-programming-using-python-full-guide/

[4] See: https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/raspberry-pi-scratch/

[5] See: https://www.voxxed.com/2015/03/code-java-on-the-raspberry-pi-part-1/

[6] See: https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/crowpi-kit-review/

[7] See: https://sinxloud.com/learn-data-science-python-statistics-mathematics/

[8] See: http://www.palrad.com/top-python-math-statistics-libraries-w-12007/

[9] See: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-computing-programmes-of-study/national-curriculum-in-england-computing-programmes-of-study