Mon | Apr 12, 2021

Recovery of education post-COVID-19

Published:Sunday | February 7, 2021 | 12:23 AMWayne Campbell - Contributor

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

– Nelson Mandela

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented educational disruption in the Caribbean Small Island Developing States. Most governments in the English and Dutch Caribbean subregion have temporarily closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We all are living through this pandemic. Many of us have lost loved ones or friends to the novel coronavirus. Indeed, many of us have had to be living with long-term health complications as a result of having contracted the novel coronavirus. Our nation’s children have suffered immensely since the education system was ordered closed in March of 2020. There are some who argue that the best way forward rests with students repeating a year; however, many educators have not found favour with this recommendation. It is well researched and documented that boys learn differently from girls. Online education is primarily suited for girls. Our gendered socialisation approach makes girls more likely to excel in online teaching and learning. To what extent is there an infusion of differentiated learning styles in the online teaching and learning modality? We must then ask ourselves, how will we reach and engage our boys during this pandemic?

The fact that our boys continue to lose ground in education circles must be of great concern to our educators as boys were already lagging at all levels of the education system. Generally speaking, boys tend to be tactile learners; boys are energised and motivated by movement. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that provides very little learning support for boys as it relates to their unique learning styles. Most of the victims as well as perpetrators of crime and violence are males. It appears that males are at risk. Perhaps we need to revisit the education system, especially the National Standards Curriculum to adequately meet the needs of our boys. There is an urgent need to interrogate boys’ education in society. We need justice for boys’ education in Jamaica in order to address the nation’s intolerable crime levels.

CURRENT REALITY

The current reality is that no one knows how long the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us. Even in light of the approval and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the developed world, the unknown quantities of the pandemic are varied and continue to shift. What if the pandemic stays for three or four years? Are we going to put students’ education on pause and ask them to repeat those years? Frankly, Jamaica’s education system cannot facilitate such a massive repeat of students. The inequalities of the education system are already glaring for all to see. What is more practical and forward thinking is for the State to find ways for all our stakeholders in the education system to learn to live with this pandemic in a safe and non-threatening manner.

Jamaica’s Education Act of 1965 (Part III) Section 21 states:

a) It is the duty of the parent of every child of compulsory school age residing in a compulsory education area to cause him or her to receive full-time education suitable to his age, ability and satisfactory to the educational board for the area, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise. In addition, the Child Care & Protection Act 2005 outlines provisions which protect the child’s right to quality education.

The Child Care & Protection Act (2005) under Part (II), subsection 28 (1): Duty to secure education of a child states:

b) “… every person having the custody, charge or care of a child between the ages four and sixteen years shall take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the child is enrolled at, and attends school.”

BLENDED LEARNING

Jamaica like most other countries, has been busy rolling out various platforms to accommodate the teaching and learning experience ever since face-to-face teaching was deemed ill-advised. A significant number of our students have benefited from tablets and laptops in order to facilitate this. I strongly suspect that remote teaching will become part of the regular education system for years to come. However, this is not your ideal solution.

Many school administrators are concerned about students logging on to the online classes; however, the extent to which these students remain logged on throughout the duration of the classes is doubtful. Speaking at a recent sitting of Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, Acting Permanent Secretary in the Education Ministry, Dr Grace McLean, said that both primary- and secondary-school students have created accounts on the ministry’s platform. “Our weekly report, for example, for last week, would have shown that 35,000 of our students logged on, on the 11th (of January), 28,000 on the 12th, 44,000 on the 13th, and 40,000 on the 14th (of January). And we actually collect this information on a weekly basis,” she outlined. McLean was, however, quick to point out that the data are still being assessed and promised to provide future updates.

“So we have seen where there are Google log-in accounts for 100 per cent of our students, but not all persons are engaged each day. So we have to watch it because we don’t know what they log in for; if they just log in to just have a look to see what’s happening, and also the quality of the time that they spend in an actual classroom,” she explained.

Let me quickly add that many of these students are unsupervised. The parents, most times single mothers, have to work. Yes, it’s a good thing that more and more of our students have access to the technology, however, we need now to find out what these students are actually doing with these gadgets before we crown online teaching a success. Of course, there are some specialised courses, for example, drama, which is difficult to teach online. The teaching of physics also comes to mind, where students are required to do labs in order to be ready to sit external examinations.

While we are grateful that the business of education has continued through remote teaching and learning, we must also be mindful of the fact that in some countries, girls’ education has suffered tremendously since the arrival of COVID-19 pandemic. Regrettably, a significant number of girls, especially in Islamic and pastoral-based societies, will not be able to resume their education once this pandemic is over. Many will be married off in arranged weddings, or the emphasis will then turn to their male siblings. International Day for Education should provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to remember those who are disenfranchised because of their sex, social class, religion, and any other indicator that could curtail one’s education. The time is now to work assiduously to reignite the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG’s) #4, which addresses quality education in order that we can have more inclusive and equitable-quality education for all. Indeed, let us find that inner strength as we use the various platforms we have at our disposal so as to speak out for those who are unable to do so.

All stakeholders have a part to play in the recovery and the revitalisation of the education system for the post-COVID-19 generation. Failure is not an option.

In the words of Malcolm X, education is the passport to the future for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.

- Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Send feedback to waykam@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter @WayneCamo.