Students to be introduced to AI technology as ‘Spark Programme’ begins

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Minister of Education Priya Manickchand at the launch of the Spark Programme

The Spark Programme which aims to introduce students to Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology was launched on Monday at the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD).

The programme is a product of the collaboration between the Ministry of Education and the LEAD Mindset, JASECI Labs and BCS Technology.

Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand said that such programmes ensure that rounded individuals are produced by the school system who can take up their space in the world, own that space and be creative.

She said that the Government of Guyana believes that citizens, especially young people, should be given the platform and the environment to flourish and to be all that they can be for themselves, their families, communities and the world.

“So this programme here, this partnership that we’re entering into, we jumped on it immediately because we see the potential in it. Not only will this allow you to be creators and innovators, but we hope it is going to make you all into leaders,” Minister Manickchand remarked.

She told the students present that it is her hope that they exit the programme with more consciousness about how their skills, talents and God-given abilities can be used to make changes, provide solutions and to improve their wellbeing. A total of 136 students will be participating in the programme.

According to the founder of JASECI Labs, Mr. Jason Mars, explained that the programme will run for eight weeks with two tracks, one that focuses on developing the leadership and innovative mindset while on the other, participants will be exposed to the AI technical track. He said that the AI track which will teach the students how to code and use the same instruments used by the biggest companies in the world to build AI products and services.

He said that along the AI track, students will be required to build a real AI product that could be launched to the world. According to Mr. Mars who is also a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Michigan, such products when sold to the world on a global scale can funnel economic outcomes and value from the global market into Guyana and the region.

The training will be facilitated by himself and Chief Executive Officer of the LEAD Mindset Ms. Dennise Hilliman, who will both spend 90 minutes each week in virtual classrooms with students. The participants will also benefit from question and answer sessions along with a series of assignments. At the end of the course, he said that there will be a showcase where students will present their creations.

“It’s our ambition and in my expectation that these creations themselves can then turn into real products that could be sold by young entrepreneurs that come out of this programme. So they’ll have the right mindset, and they’ll have the right skills to create software,” he remarked.

Meanwhile, Ms. Hilliman said that the world is changing fast with technology accelerating most of those changes. She said that those who fail to adapt to these changes will be left behind. “So every country needs to nurture creators of technology if they are to compete and progress in the global marketplace,” Ms. Hilliman noted.

Ms. Hilliman shared anecdotes of her journey from being a user of technology to becoming an advocate with a deep passion to nurture creators of technology. She said that the Government’s support of the Spark initiative combining the Lead Mindset with technology beginning with AI is imperative for the digital transformation of Guyana.

Mr. Francis Cumberbatch, General Manager and Director of Business Development of BCS Technology said that it is important for the collaborating entities to drive the digital transformation journey that Guyana is embarking upon.

He said that the initial programme will be expanded to involve graduates of the University of Guyana. He said that the programme will also be looking at apprenticeship opportunities for participants which can lead to employment.

The participating schools are Christianburg-Wismar Secondary School, Mckenzie High School, Queen’s College, the Bishops’ High School, St. Joseph’s High School, St. Rose’s High School, St. Stanislaus College, President’s College, Berbice High School, New Amsterdam Secondary School, West Demerara Secondary School and the Anna Regina Secondary School. Students from the Government Technical Institute and Teacher Trainees from the Cyril Potter College of Education will also be participating.