By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
TEXAS Philanthropists Carl and Gigi Allen have partnered with the Ministry of Education to provide tablets for the public education sector in The Bahamas as government seeks to digitise all public schools in the country.
The Allens - who are owners of Walker's Cay - have already donated hundreds of tablets to four schools - two in Grand Bahama, in Little Grand Cay and Eleuthera - and are continuing to help provide additional tablets that will benefit hundreds of young people in the public education system.
On Thursday, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Allens and the MOE at the Office of the Prime Minister in Freeport.
Permanent Secretary in the MOE Lorraine Armbrister, Director of Education Marcellas Taylor, and District Superintendents Yvonne Ward and Ivan Butler of Grand Bahama represented the Ministry of Education. Minister of State for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson was also present.
Speaking in the absence of Education Minister Jefferey Lloyd, Ms Armbrister thanked the Allens for their generous donation to education, and their continued contribution to the development of young people in the country.
"Government is doing its part and we feel the private sector ought to do its part because these are all our children. We have the Allens leading the way and showing the corporate community that we can't always take from The Bahamas, you must also give to The Bahamas. We appreciate you, and we thank you for this generous gesture you have made," she said.
According to the Permanent Secretary, the Ministry of Education is embarking on a period of transformation of the education sector through a large investment in technology to the tune of $17 million, digitising all of the schools, obtaining laptops and projectors and tablets for the school system and teachers and administrators.
"We are establishing a 21st century structure... but we realise government cannot do it on its own, everybody must have an investment in the school sector, and we are very pleased when persons such as Mr and Mrs Allen agreed to partner with the government of the Bahamas to assist us in revolutionising the school sector through technology," she said.
Director Taylor said the goal is to create an educational environment that has digital capacity reflective of 21st century life.
"We want technology to facilitate teaching and learning that prepares students for life in the 21st century. I thank the Allens for providing us with a gift to enhance the work we have commenced... to facilitate the learning students need to have. It is always a good thing when people come and join in and help us to make ourselves better."
Principal Navida Mills, of West End Primary School, said the tablets donated to the school by the Allens on April 24 have been a life changer for students and teachers there. She said the tablets have benefited their pre-schoolers.
Michelle Outten, Computer science teacher at Maurice Moore Primary School, said they are very grateful to the Allens for donating some 300 tablets for students from grades four to six at the beginning of the year. She said that students are excited about coming to the computer lab.
Mr Allen said that he and his family love The Bahamas and have been coming here for many years. He noted that government's ambition to create Grand Bahama as a technology hub, was the idea and motivation behind donating the tablets to the schools.
"I have a soft place in my heart for GB and the Abacos, and Eleuthera, and the whole Bahamas. We thought lets start in GB, and I thought if government would ever match us we will have double impact. We sent a letter and we were ecstatic we heard back that you were going to match us. Now, I think with almost 3,000 (tablets) that would be out there, we will make a huge impact."
Mr Allen also indicated that they have been following up with schools and were pleased to hear and see the progress of the children using the tablets.
"That is the epitome of why we are doing this. We got to start with the kids. And we got four of our own that have been coming here their whole lives, and we just love the fact that we are able to help out especially in education," he said.
The Allens are also involved in a few other things, including the plastics business. They are involved with Crystal Ambrose in Plastics Bahamas Solutions.
However, their major investment is at Walker's Cay, which they purchased last April. They have started redeveloping the tiny island in the northern Bahamas.
Mr Allen reported that the old marina has been demolished and work is underway with the new marina and channel restoration.
"We hope to have it open mid-April," he said, noting that some 20 persons have been employed out of Grand Cay on the marina project.
Mr Allen also said they are excited about of getting their Permanent Residency so they can truly call The Bahamas home.
"We are walking from this building over to the Passport Office, and I will put my fingerprints down and become an official resident of The Bahamas. It was a lifelong dream to accomplish that and now we will be able to call The Bahamas home," he said.
"I came here at age 12 and saw Walker's and promised myself that some day I would buy this island. And last year that came true when we closed on it," he recalled.
"I want to be part of the future and we are going to be a big part of it with Walkers. We believe that it is the gateway that has been shut down for way too long. Everyone coming over to Abaco, Eleuthera, and the Exumas, they go right by us," he said.
Mr Allen said that they hope to bring back fishing tournaments and weddings. He said plans include renovating the church building, building a small hotel, villas, and spa.
"Bear with us with a little time and money and it will happen," he said.
Minister Kwasi Thompson said government is pleased to have persons such as the Allens in The Bahamas.
"The contribution that he has made, not just to education, but a significant contribution with matching MOE with respect to tablets will benefit hundreds, and put tablets in the hands of young people in Freeport and other parts of Bahamas, and also his dedication to the Bahamas to redeveloping Walker's Cay," he said.
"Today we will be able to see hundreds benefit from the use of technology they would not have or be exposed in the educational sector," he said.
"We have determined that GB is a going to be developed into a Tech hub... What is happening here today is so important because if we are truly going to develop ourselves we have to have the human capital and skill in our young people," Mr Thompson said.