Thu | Dec 3, 2020

Large gap in St James students’ Internet accessibility

Published:Monday | October 19, 2020 | 7:21 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

The Ministry of Education’s upcoming ‘One Laptop or Tablet Per Child’ programme, which will see children across Jamaica receiving electronic learning devices, may not be coming quickly enough for some St James primary schools, where a significant portion of the student population still cannot access online classes.

This situation remains a worrying concern despite Education Minister Fayval Williams handing out 151 computer tablets to three schools as part of her ministry’s ongoing distribution of 40,000 tablets for grades four, five and six students under the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education.

Anthony Murray, principal of Barrett Town Primary School, said that while his school received 19 tablets, only half of the institution’s population of 288 students have Internet access. He noted that that issue is aggravated by the fact that the parents of many of his students are unemployed, to include some who were employed in the hotel sector but lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Presently, we have a school population of 288 students, but we have only been able to reach 144 online, so there is still a gap that needs to be filled. For those we are not reaching, we have put in a drop-off and pick-up system, but we are hoping, eventually, we can reach at least 90 per cent of our students online,” said Murray. “Most of the students’ parents are hotel workers, and since COVID came in March, most of them are not working.”

Audrey Lee-Peynado, principal of Glendevon Primary and Junior High School, said that of her 350 students, only 52 are able to log on for online learning at any given time due to the majority lacking access to devices or data.

LACK OF DEVICES

“There is a lack of devices and children have to rely on parents’ phones. Some parents have more than one child, and they have to go to work, so the children suffer,” said Lee-Peynado, whose school got 62 tablets on Thursday. “Sometimes it is in the night where they have to wait until parents return to do their schoolwork, so teachers would have to be up with them ensuring they get the work done. There is still a huge gap that needs to be filled, so as we go, we are doing the printed kits, and the teachers are working with them in the WhatsApp groups as soon as they can catch them.”

The lack of connectivity was also a sore point for Maxine Tugwell-Brown, principal of John’s Hall Primary School, where only 173 of the school’s 325 students have Internet access.

“At John’s Hall, our parents are having challenges in that many of them do not have the devices readily available. Many of them do not have access to connectivity, and many of them have to use data to connect to the Internet, so as a result, many of my students are not online at the moment,” said Tugwell-Brown, whose school got 70 tablets.

Several educators had previously voiced concern about how patchy or non-existent Internet access would affect online learning. Those fears were realised at some schools during the start of the school term on October 5, when students reported an inability to log in due to them having no connectivity or the required electronic devices.

In response to the concerns raised by the principals, Williams urged the parents of children with no Internet access to make use of the learning platforms currently available through television and radio.