C@ribNET linking the Caribbean through partnerships in research and education

Caption - Minister of Tertiary Education and Skills Training, Senator the Honourable Fazal Karim

The historic launch of C@ribNET has opened the door for a more modern approach to tertiary education here at home and across theCaribbean.

C@ribNET---the Caribbean Research and Education Network, offerslocal students, researchers, educators, professional and administrative staff of Tertiary Level Institutions (TLIs) access to research and education centers throughout the region in a variety of areas including science & technology, health, security and culture.

At a cost of 10 million Euros, financed by the European Union, C@ribNET  not only links universities in T&T and throughout the Caribbean, it also links the Caribbean to the rest of the global research and education community, opening access to shared resources such as grid computing, open repositories and other e-infrastructures for research and education.

C@ribNET’s broadband, high-speed fiber optic infrastructure connects over 26 million persons in at least 21 countries in the region. It wasfacilitated through partnerships among the Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network (CKLN - the inter-governmental agency of CARICOM responsible for C@ribNET) and LIME Caribbean. Seven months ago, fibre-optic network infrastructure between C@ribNET and T&T’s main TLIs: the University of the West Indies (UWI); the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT) and the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) was completed by the country’s major telecommunications service provider, TSTT. As such the Caribbean was then able to celebrate its first operational National Research and Education Network (NREN) when UWI, COSTAATT and UTT came together to formthe Trinidad and Tobago Research and Education Network (TTRENT).

Other regional and international research and education networks on board include the Pan European Research and Education Network, GEANT; the USA Research and Education Network, Internet 2: the Latin American Research and Education Network, redCLARA and the African Research and Education Network, UbuntuNET Alliance.

Minister of Tertiary Education and Skills Training, Senator The Honourable Fazal Karim,said NRENs wereonce considered to be the invisible hands behind the flux of technological advancements and have now emerged as a new global phenomenon that has redefined the modes of exchange, interaction and more importantly – learning and discovery. Minister Karim noted “Despite the pervasion of commercial internet service providers, NRENs will continue to have a fixed place in both developed and developing societies, ” adding that the global network of NRENs are cognizant that the needs of this growing community are increasingly dependent on government support as research and education are areas that fall within Government’s purview of responsibilities.

Ken Sylvester, Chief Executive Officer, Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network (CKLN) was confident that C@ribNET would serve to provide Caribbean States with more effective ways to collaborate, share resources and create opportunities for achieving economies of scale of the limited resources existing in each island.  “This is why CARICOM created CKLN and mandated the organisation to build C@ribNET as a regional platform that will contribute to the Caribbean becoming more globally competitive.” 

Sylvester noted that one of the major impediments that had stopped the region in achieving this objective was its geography. “By launching C@ribNET, we are creating the opportunity to get rid of this impediment of distance.” Sylvester said C@ribNET presented a new paradigm of how people could work collaboratively in extending the reach, scale and scope of education and participation in research for a significantly larger percentage of Caribbean people, however he felt C@ribNET’s sustainability would be mainly dependent on the existence of strong NRENS in all CARICOM countries.

He added that Trinidad and Tobago’s contribution in hosting the event gave testimony to the strategic importance of the C@ribNET initiative to not only its citizens but to the Caribbean as a whole.

Professor Emeritus Errol Miller of Jamaica said the Caribbean was at an “epoch-defining juncture of history” as a result of technological, demographic and ecological imperatives.  “Gone are the days when professionals, officials and bureaucrats practiced their crafts in isolation from their peers in the Caribbean and their points of reference and data were outside the region. “Now  communities of practice in health, education, local government, tourism, trade, etc, constantly share data, compare and contrast variations in circumstances; report different approaches tried and consider the results obtained with regard to common phenomena impacting the Caribbean.”

To demonstrate the power of the network, a real-time  virtual collaboration was set up linking Mr. Liam Teague, son of the soil and Associate Professor of Steelpan and Co-director of the Steelband at Northern Illinois University, USA; Ms Debra Romain of Jamaican and Trinidadian parentage and a tutor of the Cambridge University Steel Pan Society in the UK and Mr. Leon “Smooth” Edwards, well known Steelband Arranger and Team Leader at the Academy for the Performing Arts at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). 

The Virtual Collaboration was flawless in its execution never succumbing to the customary jitters, drop-outs and latency problem often experienced in normal video conferencing (VC) sessions.  The was possible through the expert support of Mr. Rolph Young and Mr. Allan Murphy of TSTT to  provide  access to Video Conferencing  services and  upgraded bandwidth connection from the National Academy of the Performing Arts (NAPA) back to the C@ribNET Node at Nelson Exchange.  The connection allowed for the high quality multi-point video collaboration.    In fact, Research and Education Networks (RENs) because of their dedicated fibre optic connections are 100 times faster than commercial and residential DSL connections. The Virtual Collaboration took up only 40% of the available bandwidth capacity sending and receiving signals between Port-of-Spain, Chicago and London.

With the potential to transform classroom interactions of today and promote economic growth for tomorrow, stakeholders agree that C@ribNET is indeed the future of Caribbean unity in research and education.