Sat | Sep 19, 2020

Hills big barriers to online learning

Published:Wednesday | April 1, 2020 | 12:28 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter

The postponement of in-person classes until after Easter is taking a toll on a single mother whose daughter is finding it challenging preparing for upcoming Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams.

From lack of Internet connectivity to being unable to access Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) funding, Irish Town resident Angella Richards said that the displacement caused by COVID-19 has upended the normality of life.

Richards’ 11th-grade daughter attends an eastern St Andrew high

The 17-year-old, who is expected to sit seven exams, has tried to follow the syllabus and tap strategies taught in the RJRGLEANER-Ministry of Education programme ‘Schools Not Out’. But audiovisual instruction is no carbon copy of face-to-face interaction in formal school, with access to interjections and queries for clarity, the teenager revealed.

Her identity and school name have not been published because children on welfare sometimes face stigma.

“Me a one a di poor people dem on the poor side,” said Richards.

“[My daughter] does well at school and she a go do CXC. How the hell that a go benefit she? Mi nah no Internet at home.”

Like thousands of schoolchildren in COVID-era Jamaica, the 17-year-old receives work from her teachers in WhatsApp groups, but Internet access is costly and often unreliable.

NEW NORMAL

Schools were ordered closed on March 13 in a bid to limit the potential of community transmission of the novel coronavirus, which has killed two people and infected 38 locally. In a time warp, chalk, blackboards, dusters and printed textbooks have been tossed. Cell phones, laptops and tablets have become the new normal.

Richards said that she spends close to $5,000 weekly to purchase data, but poor signal and slow downloading capacity, exacerbated by the hilly terrain of their rural community, gobbles up data amid repeated attempts to stay connected.

“When I can find money to buy the credit I try, but she is a PATH beneficiary, too, so you know how that go. A $250 fi a two-day (data plan), and when she a do schoolwork, the data (400MB) goes nowhere,” Richards told The Gleaner.

The cleaning agent vendor, who operates from a small shop near Irish Town Square, said she is taking the necessary precautions throughout the ordeal but there is no greater issue than getting her daughter on track with school.

PATH school meal benefits have not been forthcoming since the virus outbreak, Richards said.

“Mi nuh get nothing since. She being on it and we should a get something, we nuh know nothing,” said the mother of six.

Reprieve is likely to come soon after Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke pledged that PATH beneficiaries will receive an additional payment during the period April to June. Direct transfers were advocated by Opposition Spokesman on Education Peter Bunting almost two weeks ago.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com