EDUCATORS across the island are appealing to the Government to carefully examine the lessons the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have taught the sector, and implement the necessary changes to the curriculum.
“Education is no longer chalk and talk. While being in the physical space is much better for children to have personal contact with their teacher, we need to realise that globally the world has changed,” a St Ann-based educator told the Jamaica Observer last week.
Further, she said that in order to align the local education system to match global trends, sufficient resources are needed.
“Things need to be implemented and schools need to be sufficiently equipped with the necessary technological features, the necessary technological apps so we can function outside of the space. As teachers we need to set ourselves in motion because of this paradigm shift into learning to do things. If we learn to do new things along the way, when crises like these come our way, I don’t believe it will be this stressful. Challenges will come our way, but we will be able to manoeuvre even the most stressful of things to get by,” the educator said.
Admittedly not a technologically savvy individual, the educator relayed that when schools were ordered closed on March 12 and the mode of learning moved online, it was nothing but a frenzy for her and several colleagues.
She, however, explained that her initial worries about the use of technology soon paled in comparison to what she describes as real challenges manifested in the lack of control in the virtual space, plus the inability to reach more than 50 per cent of students.
“On a daily basis when you’re face-to-face with them, nuff a dem no wah learn in yuh face so imagine when they are not in front of you. I have a grade 11 class and that is an exam class—a class of boys. From I set up that classroom on the 12th of March to the 18th when our school got up and running with the Google Classroom, none of those boys are in my class. The home teacher is trying to reach out to them, and they are just seemingly not interested. That poses a serious challenge because we cannot get through to them because of various issues — financial, Internet or just don’t care attitude,” the teacher said.
“For my grade 11, I keep uploading work and they are not doing it. My supervisors have advised me to stop putting work there. So now when I go and check, I drop a word of encouragement. I encourage them to come on board and remind them we are in exam mode; it is exam season. We don’t know when the exam will be, but we need to be prepared. Two (students) eventually came on and I encouraged them to do some of the of the work and submit. I told them the choice is there to be better, come on board and be better,” she added.
The educator, who has classroom experience spanning over 20 years, further said that she has managed to have live classes on Zoom once per week, but resource issues from both teachers and students often shelve those plans.
“I live in an area where I don’t have Internet issues, but I have co-workers with one device in their homes. People believe because we are professionals, we do not have these challenges. We do. I have one co-worker who has one device. His wife was on leave and now she is off leave and they both have to be using the one device to do their work. They teach in the same institution. They have three children— one in high school and one in primary school who have to be using the same device. They have a son in sixth form, he has his own computer. The challenges are there and for teachers it is stressful beyond measure,” the teacher explained.
To help alleviate these issues, the Government has promised to provide 25,000 teachers with tablets under the Tablets for Teachers Programme as part of an agreement between the Government and the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) to provide each teacher in public schools with a 10-inch tablet computer as part of their compensation package.
The tablets will be for personal use as well as to assist the educators in delivering content and lessons in a virtual environment, especially since the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has transformed the teaching/learning atmosphere.
A sum of $700 million was symbolically handed over to e-Learning Jamaica by the Universal Service Fund (USF) for the procurement of the devices.
In addition to physical setbacks, the educator also mentioned that Internet challenges have also decreased much of the teaching time.
“Many are having severe issues as well, Internet challenges, some who don’t have a device to do their work and so that poses a real challenge. Some parents don’t understand how to manipulate the system so they WhatsApp the work. I had an issue with that because how do you mark it on WhatsApp? Recently a video came out on how to mark it but then the storage on the phone is a problem and you don’t want to be deleting the children’s work because you need to have records,” the educator said.
The teacher added: “The Google platform for me is working out now but it is more work in terms of reaching the students and getting the parents participation because they have to be on the phone every day. You have to try to encourage them to get on worse now that school isn’t reopening physically until September. You don’t want anyone to be left behind because we are in an unsure situation.”
Moreover, the educator expressed concern about the pending Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations, pointing out that the results may not be as outstanding as they should be.
“Some of the children aren’t interested, some you can’t reach. Based on the fact that you can’t reach some of them it is going to create a serious impact on CSEC results. Overall, the results of some will be severely impacted, especially those in the rural areas. Those in the elite areas may be different, because their parents tend to be professionals and will see to it that the work is done. Some of those students are intrinsically driven. As a rural teacher I don’t think the results will be as outstanding as they can be or they should be,” the educator said.
Meanwhile, an educator from Meadowbrook High in St Andrew, said the challenges are just the same for Corporate Area schools as teachers struggle to reach students and navigate Internet challenges.
“Some blame lack of access [but] I know at least 10 who have not attended class have no such issues. I have a grade 10 class of 27 and only seven came to Zoom class yesterday (May 5). I posted work from March and only get about eight submissions,” Shelly-Ann Ebanks, a social studies and physical education teacher at the institution, said.
Ebanks, who is also the grade nine coordinator at Meadowbrook said she has even re-taught topics, converted handouts to PowerPoint presentations and created videos to cater to different learning styles, but apart from those with Internet challenges, the interest of the majority is seemingly just not there.
Subsequently, Ebanks said every school must be given the capacity to integrate various platforms [online] to prepare for other eventualities like this.
“This is necessary so their transition to tertiary learning, which uses blended technologies will be smoother. Train teachers in the theory and practice of these modalities. This is very new to many,” she said.
As for final assessments, Ebanks is worried about how it will fare for students.
“Many now bear the full stress of their home environments—no food to eat, they worry about health, etcetera, so their focus right now may not be on school, but simply survival. I’m not sure if the formal assessments that we try now are relevant because of the disparity with Internet access,” Ebanks said.
Ebanks also pointed out that there are some students who face harsh financial constraints, which stand in the way of learning. For these students, she said the guidance counsellors usually check-up and try to assist.
“The stories of hunger are real. At least at school they’re guaranteed a meal and a little love from their teachers. We have two that I have asked my family members to assist with necessities because parents don’t have it. They really live from meal to meal. My aunt abroad has basically taken on a boy in grade 10 —very bright—but his situation is very bad due mainly to poverty,” she said.
Ebanks is also concerned about students with special needs.
“It cannot be easy for many of those parents in these times where routines are disrupted and it’s mostly one size fits all teaching and learning,” she said.
Furthermore, she also reiterated that we must learn from the crisis and make the necessary changes.
“Invest in mandatory in-service education at the school and QEC level. Every school must have a technology integration policy with teachers properly trained and skilled to execute. We can have yearly stress tests of the system to ensure its effectiveness. Parents have to monitor and try to keep up with what is happening at school and also provide correct contact information, especially in times like these,” Ebanks said.
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