MARTHA BRAE, Trelawny – President of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (JAPSS), Linvern Wright, says schools across western Jamaica are much more prepared for next week’s start of the academic year, when compared to the start of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Jamaica, six months ago.
However, despite the gains made, concerns having to do with the Internet and devices continue to plague the sector.
Schools are scheduled to reopen remotely to the wider cohort of students on October 5 for the first time since the Government had ordered them closed on March 13— three days after the country recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19— as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
On June 8, secondary schools were temporarily reopened to facilitate students sitting the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exit exams.
Come Monday schools are expected to facilitate students learning from home.
Wright said schools in the western region, which encompasses the parishes of Trelawny, St James, Hanover and Westmoreland, are now much more mentally prepared.
“People are making preparations. People are much more mentally prepared and people have done their training. The ministry itself had provided training for like the Google Suites set of apps and teachers are more comfortable because it is not just hearing they are hearing, but they would have familiarised themselves with the platform,” he explained.
However, Wright added, “the challenge everybody is having is that there are more than a few students who do not have access because they do not have the coverage and the connectivity.”
In fact, Wright, who is also the principal of William Knibb High School in Trelawny, said while his school’s preparations are far better this time around, about 40 per cent of his students are affected by issues pertaining to the internet and devices.
He said, nevertheless, that while there may be a delay in some parents coming on board, efforts are being made by the school to provide assistance to these students and parents with data, for example.
It was a similar sentiment shared by his colleague Michael Ellis, the principal of Cornwall College in St James, who argued that his school is much more prepared than in March.
Ellis added that the school has put in place measures to deal with students and teachers with connectivity issues, noting that about 20 per cent of students do not have access to the Internet.
Among the measures is a Ministry of Education drive to have students access classes that will be broadcast on television. Additionally, the school is also providing access rooms on the compound where students with connectivity issues can come in and access the Internet. Students will also be able to pick up printed materials prepared by the school at the Ministry of Education Region 4 drop-off points.
In the rural community of Little Bay in Westmoreland, improvements have been made since the Jamaica Observer West last visited the Little Bay All-Age and Infant in May.
“As a team, we have improved. Many of our staff members have been retrained, retooled and equipped through the Ministry of Education to ensure that learning continues,” stated Keron King, the institution’s principal.
He pointed out that teachers have been trained through the National College of Education and Leadership (NCEL) in using the Google Classroom platform, noting that the school will also be utilising the EduFocal learning platform.
Additionally, for the first time, the school through the Ministry of Education Region 4 office, has received a trained guidance counsellor to aid with the school’s psychosocial support efforts, aimed at supporting students and displaced families.
Despite the improvements, Internet connectivity and reliable telephone access continue to plague the Little Bay community. In fact, King said more than 50 per cent of the student population either do not have access to the Internet or are having connectivity issues.
Earlier this year, in an effort to facilitate students with their education, King utilised a bike taxi to deliver printed school work to his students. In fact, the school has solicited the service of two additional motorcycles for the upcoming new school term.
Since our news team visit to the school in May, ReadyTv has installed satellite Internet at the institution, which is then shared via Wi-Fi to neighbouring homes. The service is paid for by Cornerstone Jamaica.
Principal of Green Island Primary School in Hanover, Vaccianna Moseley, told the Observer West that during the last term, the school tried utilising “online and WhatsApp learning” with limited knowledge.
“Personally, I don’t think that it was much effective, but it was better than nothing at all,” stated Moseley, who added “the reopening now in October, although it is not where we want it to be, but it is much better.”
Moseley said the drive by the ministry to utilise the Google Classroom has given educators the tool to make the teaching and learning process more effective this time around.
He said approximately 70 per cent of the school’s population has some form of access to the Internet, adding that the remaining 30 are from what he classified as “extreme poor background”.
The principal said the school will be providing printed materials to those affected students, while at the same time continue with its WhatsApp group. In addition, Moseley has expressed hope that his school will benefit in the near future from the ReadyTv satellite Internet initiative which is being funded by Cornerstone Jamaica. He noted that if this should become a reality, the community will also be able to get Wi-Fi access.
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