Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Online schooling by the roadside - Parents struggling to keep children in classes as ministry tries to help PATH students

Published:Wednesday | October 21, 2020 | 12:09 AMCarl Gilchrist/Gleaner Writer

Parents across Jamaica are making the effort to assist their children get accustomed to the online method of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Beverley Dressikie of Huddersfield, St Mary, is one of them.

The only difference is she does it in an old shop by the roadside, while accessing a neighbour’s Wi-Fi hotspot.

Some years ago, with a hurricane threatening to hit Jamaica, Dressikie had stripped the board from the shop to batten down her house. The board was never replaced and all that remains of the shop is the wooden frame and the zinc roof.

That is where Dressikie settled Tuesday morning. And with birds chirping in the nearby bushes that lined the countryside, she set about assisting her daughter, Tessonna Bicknell, a grade one student of the Ocho Rios Primary School, while her adopted daughter, Tanise Phidd, who is in grade nine at Steer Town Academy, managed on her own. Both students are equipped with tablets.

“I’m sitting here trying to help Tessonna with her work,” she told The Gleaner.

“Today is school day and I have to do it here because the Internet pick up better here. That’s where I get the Internet from, I don’t have mine as yet, so I have to come here,” she added, pointing to the house across the road.

As she spoke, she realised that Tessonna had made a mistake and set about correcting her.

“Maybe when I’m not here she will do it better,” Dressikie explained with a grin.

However, everything was proceeding well, and according to her, it was the first time they were using the old shop for classes.

“I still use it as a shop. Sometimes I put out hand sanitisers and stuff to sell. I always help with the schoolwork from the online thing start, but is the first time here because the Internet pick up better here,” she said.

CONNECTIVITY ISSUES, RESOURCES LACKING

Tessonna and Tanise are among thousands of students across Jamaica who have been forced to adapt to online classes as the COVID-19 pandemic pulled the plug on traditional in-person schooling.

Concerns remain about students’ inability to access online classes because of Internet connectivity issues or lack of resources, with some estimates showing fewer than half of students across the island being engaged.

Yesterday, Education Minister Fayval Williams said the Government was on a push to supply devices to students on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).

Yesterday, she made presentations to students of Jones Town Primary, Iris Gelly Primary and Trench Town Primary in St Andrew, pointing out that the focus would initially be on students in grades four, five and six, who are preparing for the Primary Exit Profile tests.

“We are targeting PATH students because they are the neediest of the needy in our society. Later on, there are other procurements on the way to put laptops into the hands of PATH students as well as in our high schools in grades 10 to 13,” Williams said.

Jones Town Primary Principal Sybrena Francis Knight was elated that the PATH students living in the inner-city community she serves will have devices to work from home.

“We express our sincere thanks for all the assistance given. With the rapid transformation in meeting our learners for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, … we [can now] meet the students with the needs regarding education and technology,” she said.

Trench Town Primary Principal Merlene Sewell Sullivan said her students will be happy after they get their new tablets.

“We may not be able to reach all our children, but with us as educators and our innovativeness, we will use the tablets to reach our students,” she said.

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