Sat | Mar 28, 2020

JTA wants more COVID-19 Internet support - Speid wants FLOW, Digicel to expand bandwidth for digital lessons

Published:Monday | March 23, 2020 | 12:21 AMAlbert Ferguson/Gleaner Writer


Teachers are being challenged in effectively delivering lessons to students through distance platforms amid the global COVID-19 pandemic because of unaffordable Internet data, Owen Speid, president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), has said.

“To sustain this challenge of distance teaching, it depends heavily on data, and data is very expensive, especially if you are going to get through a good volume of work,” Speid told The Gleaner in an interview on Thursday.

Speid wants FLOW and Digicel, the two main providers of Internet data, to expand Internet bandwidth so that more teachers and students will be better able to engage while they are away from traditional classroom settings.

“The challenge is with the limited bandwidth from the two telecommunications providers. You might be on Digicel, and you not getting access in certain areas, or you might be on FLOW and not getting access in certain areas,” said Speid.

“I believe they should look at maybe topping up what they provide ... something like matching dollars. So if I purchase $200, then you probably give me an extra $200 value of data,” said Speid.

“I think they can do that, or maybe they can try to extend the bandwidth or to set up hotspots, which could work in some instances even while maintaining social distances,” he added

The JTA boss also noted that he was not immediately sure how the telecommunications companies would seek to ensure that the data they provide would be used exclusively for teaching and learning.

“I don’t know how they are going to verify that they are actually teachers, but I believe that by now, school leaders should be in a position to verify that type of information,” said Speid.

All infant, primary, and secondary schools, as well as tertiary institutions, have been ordered closed for 14 days as of March 13. Since then, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has been partnering with the RJRGLEANER Communications Group to deliver live interactive teaching sessions across all media platforms for high-school students in Jamaica.

At the same time, Speid said that despite being challenged by limited and expensive Internet access, the nation’s teachers were going beyond the call of duty in preparing students for upcoming internal and regional examinations. The JTA president, however, credited the ministry’s initiative for providing access to learning but lamented the displacement faced by children and other education stakeholders.

“[It] is a good move, but we don’t know how far it can go because they are constantly uploading and trying to get some lessons going right through the day. In fact, some of them are going through the night,” Speid said.

“I really feel it for the children who are preparing for their exams and for the teachers, too, who are preparing them.”