With schools closed for another three weeks, some teachers in rural Jamaica are concerned that they have not yet been able to connect online with a significant number of their students.
Communities in northern Trelawny, for example, namely Troy, Alps and Ulster Spring, are reported to be having challenges with internet connection, with some parents also struggling to purchase data.
Principal of the Albert Town High School in the parish, Dwayne Edwards, told the Jamaica Observer last week that while the majority of students at that school have been able to connect primarily via Whatsapp with their teachers, some 30 per cent have not yet been reached.
“I think we are possibly reaching over 70 per cent now, but that other 30 per cent is still a large number that we are not reaching and we would like to reach all of the students if at all possible,” said Edwards, highlighting the poor internet connection, and in some instances, none at all, for some households.
“We know that is not necessarily possible, given the realities around this area and the socio-economic conditions. There are some parents too who prior to this crisis never had smart phones and would have gone and purchased smartphones to be able to connect.
“Upper Trelawny is generally not one of the areas that you would have a lot of Wi-Fi connection. Some of them have data challenges or slow internet speed. Very few homes would have internet at their leisure. So, we know that most persons depend on purchasing data and this appears to be one of the challenges that our children have,” said Edwards.
The principal said, however, that in the main teachers at the school have been putting structures in places whereby those students who are able to go online are placed in different Whatsapp groups according to grade and subject area.
Lesson plans for them are also prepared for each day and the various subjects scheduled on particular days.
“That has been going fairly good based on the feedback from parents and students. It is working in some sense but, the fact remains that there are some children who we have not yet been able to contact,” said Edwards.
For that reason, the principal indicated further that teachers have not received school-based assessments (SBA’s) from students, which are due and required by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) for grading.
The council last week announced its strategy for the May/June examinations as the region continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, the council said that at least one common paper, ie, a Multiple Choice Assessment will be administered, as well as SBA’s. Yesterday it was further announced that SBA’s will be pushed back by at least one month.
As of now, however, Edwards said that a decision has not yet been made about how the school will be treating with those students who are unable to submit their SBA’s remotely.
“We are still working to see how best to deal with the situation as we can. We will first try to find out how many students have not been able to submit.
“When we do an assessment at the end of the week and we see exactly what number of children who have not submitted SBAs and where the children are who have not yet submitted, then we will have to action something else,” said the principal.
One teacher at the Albert Town High School, who also spoke with the Sunday Observer, expressed her concern about students not being able to submit their SBAs.
Tamar Dixon, a teacher of grades seven through to nine, said that: “It is a bit tedious when it comes to those students from Troy, who by now they should have sent in their SBA via e-mail, and they have not come in because there is no connection. Certain areas in Alps and Ulster Spring, you are not going get any connection.
“For those children I do not know what is happening. I am unable to say what will happen to those students. We will have to make provisions for those students who have not got work. But even then, I think parents should be more proactive and not be so dependent of teachers,” said Dixon.
“Also, I am really worried for the child who doesn’t have anybody at home to explain to them because even when we send the work, if there isn’t somebody there to explain they could be left behind,” she added. “There are several issues. Parents have to use their phones, parents gone to the field with their phones and some children don’t have a phone.
“It’s a bit hectic, but I don’t think all is lost. I think we are coping. The work is going out to those students who can get online. We have our timetables, but maybe the schools need to come together and make it little bit more whole scale and organised, instead of schools trying to do their own thing, so that everybody is on the same page.
“Also, I think it would be good to use the radio to give instructions to those students who can’t get online,” the teacher suggested.
Meanwhile, president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, Owen Speid, is asking the Government to make further pronouncements about how teachers will be compensated for data purchased as they continue their lessons remotely.
”The ministry has said to the teachers that they will reimburse the teachers some of the money they have spent to buy data. We don’t know how far that will go, but they have extended that. There is a little bit of confusion though with that because even in some regions, the teachers are texting me to ask how it should work and I think in that regard the Ministry of Education should send out a bulletin to the schools explaining exactly how it works because so far they have not done that and the teachers are not sure who they are to go to get it,” said Speid.
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