Sun | Oct 25, 2020

#GetThemConnected - Project Access Jamaica aims to help 100 students participate in remote learning

Published:Saturday | September 5, 2020 | 12:07 AMJamila Litchmore/Special Projects and Engagement Editor
Camir Ricketts, founder of the MindsOf Initiative.

Schools will reopen on a phased basis beginning October 5, but, for many students, the difficulties they experienced the previous school year with accessing devices, and for some, data, are still very present.

Camir Ricketts, founder of the MindsOf Initiative, is hoping to remedy these technological challenges through his Project Access Jamaica campaign.

Project Access aims to address educational inequality by providing 100 students in rural communities across Jamaica with tablets and mobile data plans, and is making headway.

It has raised $3,349 of its $25,000 goal on crowdfunding platform, GoFundMe, up to press time.

Plus, Ricketts, who is a PhD candidate at Weill Cornell Medicine at Cornell University in New York City, was one of 38 students selected by the Clinton Global Initiative University COVID-19 Student Action Fund, which supports students tackling the challenges presented by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“COVID has really highlighted the digital disparities that exist, not only in Jamaica, but all across the world. So when I saw the Clinton Foundation announce their student action fund, I thought it was a great opportunity to do our part in helping some of these students,” he told The Gleaner.

Still more support is needed to help Project Access hit its target.

The difficulties faced by students is a topic Ricketts is versed on. He grew up in Montego Bay, St James, where his mother, an educator, is the principal of the Eagles Wings Elementary School.

“The difficulties her students were having with the rapid transition to remote learning was a frequent topic of conversation,” said Ricketts.

He added that the experiences of students who were affected by the closure of physical schools made it abundantly clear that the issue needed to be addressed in some substantive way.

ACCESS TO CLASSROOM

“I saw so many articles come out detailing how, at some schools, up to 55 per cent of the student body has not had access to their classroom since March and, in some rural areas, principals [and] teachers are taking it upon themselves to drive to students’ homes, just so they can have educational materials,” he shared.

The project will depend on the teachers of the selected schools in helping to identify students who have difficulties staying connected in their new, virtual classrooms and has partnered with Caribbean Girls Hack and the Digicel Foundation, the latter which will facilitate access to data for all Project Access recipients.

“The data plan is being made possible through a generous donation from the Digicel Foundation. These SIMs have data plans and students will be able to access them, which also includes zero-rated education websites,” revealed Ricketts.

The 100 students will also receive access to a Minds of Jamaica career webinar in November.

“We want to use this webinar as an opportunity to showcase a variety of professions that we have represented at Minds Of Jamaica and give students an opportunity to ask questions and learn more,” the organisation head explained.

The target for distribution of the Education Access Kits – an internet-enabled device, sponsored data plan and career webinar access – is October.

Launched in September 2019, MindsOf is a mentorship platform that gives students access to resources targeting their personal and professional development. Its offshoot, Minds of Jamaica, has a local focus.

With more than 30 mentors, referred to as ‘Minds’, across disciplines in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and the arts, and more than 56 students – 41 from high school and 15 from tertiary institutions across Jamaica – Minds of Jamaica not only connects students to mentors and a wealth of resources, but opportunities as well.

Now they are giving students an even greater avenue for success, access to an education.

“We’d like to help as many as we can. So if you are reading this and would like to support, you can find the link to donate by visiting themindsof.com,” said Ricketts.

To donate or learn more about Project Access Jamaica, visit gofundme.com/f/project-access-ja-increasing-access-to-education or themindsof.com, follow @mindsofJamaica on Instagram and Twitter.

jamila.litchmore@gleanerjm.com