RESIDENTS of communities in St Mary, who have been complaining about food and freedom of movement since placed under quarantine last week, have been wrestling with another problem since the closure of schools and colleges in March — the inability to log on to the online classes which replaced face-to-face tuition.
The residents of Annotto Bay, Juno Pen, Enfield, Iter Boreale, and Dover in the parish were on May 7 placed under a 14-day quarantine restriction by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) to contain the spread of the rampaging novel coronavirus, after residents of the communities were found to be infected with the virus. There were, up to yesterday, 18 confirmed cases in the parish.
Speaking with the Jamaica Observer on a recent visit to the area, residents said there has been much talk from Government officials that distance learning is active across the island but they are largely left out as they cannot afford the charges associated with access to the Internet.
“From the restrictions start my workplace lock down, so I no mek no money,” disclosed a local barmaid who gave her name only as Cherry, who pointed out that the loss of income made it impossible for her to pay for Internet access for her children to access classes.
“Based on what a gwaan now, if me haffi decide between WhatsApp and food, is food mi going to buy,” she continued.
The residents indicated that the cost of Internet service remains a deterrent to continued access to the various tools that have been provided by teachers and the Ministry of Education. They charge that with a large number of them not engaged in mainstream employment their earning potential has been hit hard by the poor economic conditions brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.
Fifteen-year-old Tashoi Spaulding said she had missed a number of classes since schools closed with the arrival of a case of the novel coronavirus in Jamaica.
“When online school started we were keeping up. But it can take sometimes $500 credit for just one day depending on what’s going on,” the Port Antonio High School student explained, indicating that there are daily Zoom classes she is expected to participate in.
“We need like a Wi-Fi box so we can have the Internet,” surmised the teen. “Still, I want this to be over so I can go back to school.”
Violet Hussey says she is thankful for the teachers and all they do, but she can’t keep up with the cost of daily Internet access. She explained that with one child at Annotto Bay High and another at Enfield Primary her resources have been drained.
She was supported by her neighbour Novelette Graham, mother of a 10-year-old, who said, “Miss Edwards [the class teacher] put on the work, but I can’t always load the phone.” She also referenced a male primary school teacher living in the area who goes the extra mile to get work to them, but he too, she said, had “run out a steam with the Internet problem”.
Principal of Enfield Basic School Margaret Brown says there has been much effort to keep the students active with lessons and so she has had to prepare worksheets by hand and deliver them to the homes. She then faces the challenge of having to collect them herself as not all parents are able to return them to her. And after correcting them they have to be returned to the pupils.
“The transition to online is a bit of a challenge here in Enfield because the parents do not have access to [Internet] service to even get a WhatsApp. I started doing that and realised that it wasn’t effective because even those who get the WhatsApp can’t print it for the child to complete it,” Brown explained.
She said that, while she accepts that there are virtual tools to aid learning, many residents in the community were not able to afford connectivity.
Brown told the Observer that the school itself does not have Internet service, but she receives some assistance from her son overseas which she has used to purchase a 16GB month-long data package to communicate with the students who are able.
“Sometimes you call them on the phone and the child is not even in the same location. So it’s really hard.”
The 60-year-old Enfield Basic School hopes to establish a library with at least one computer to better facilitate its students. It has already received donations of books and LeapFrog learning aids, but needs funding to construct the room to house them.
Paulette Housen, resident of Enfield and student at The Mico University College, says her studies in primary education have been hampered by her inability to always access the Internet.
“It is very expensive to maintain my current studies as the information is largely online,” she said, adding that she also has to provide access for her son, who is in grade five at May River Primary School, and her daughter in sixth form at Annotto Bay High School.
“For my son, he can write things by hand and I send a picture to his teacher, but for my daughter and myself we have to spend more time online for research and reading and so on,” said the teacher in training as she lamented the cost of data service.
Rosemarie Howell says her need for food has been managed, but her two young ones, students of Dover Faith Basic School and Windsor Castle All-Age, need access to the Internet to do work set out by their teachers.
“We had a tablet, but it drop and conk out. But even before that we never always have service.”
Her five-year-old, Fiona, brightly said, “I want to go to school.” Her brother, Tahjay, was not as excited, but he too indicated that the tablet was not working and he wanted to go out to school.
“Sometimes him go down to him friend house down there and they do the classes together,” said Howell, pointing to a neighbouring house.
Mother of three, Shanika Robinson, indicated that she has been struggling with the business of online schooling. With a nine-year-old, seven-year-old, and four-year-old sharing the resources it remains challenging.
“I really need a tablet for them, but I’m having it difficult,” shared the mother. “I’m really trying to sort it out,” she explained, indicating that the cost of printing at a nearby Internet cafe has been prohibitive.
Robinson said she was sometimes able to drop her son’s book at Enfield Primary so his teacher could assess his progress, but that is not always possible.
Shaw Academy student Tashae Thompson showed this newspaper text confirmation messages from her cellphone provider indicating that over the last 24 days she added $13,185 in credit to her phone. She indicated that the majority of this was used on data charges as her classes are now being held online.
“See it there, all a mi likkle money gone inna credit,” she said as she scrolled through the message log. “I have to hot spot the phone and then log on as there is no Wi-Fi. Sometimes it buffer, but that’s what I have to do.”
Thompson says she has received numerous promises from different entities for help, and has written to Member of Parliament Dr Norman Dunn, but has received no response. She was previously employed part-time, but has been a casualty of the crisis.
“I understand why we have to have a lockdown, but the consequences rough,” said the graphic design student.
The same was said by Deborah Howell, second-year student at The University of the West Indies. “I have logged on for some online classes but I can’t afford every class. I have no problem if we can’t meet at school because of the virus, but we need assistance to stay online for class.”
She explained that she has all the tools to continue her human resource management studies but she needed assistance with Internet access. Howell encouraged her political representatives to send help to the community of Enfield as, if things stay the way they are for much longer, the youth will bear the negative effects of missed education which will last longer than the coronavirus.
The Ministry of Education last week indicated that schools will remain shuttered for the remainder of the 2019/20 academic year.
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