Fri | Dec 3, 2021

Years to reverse COVID curse

120,000 students off education radar

Published:Thursday | May 6, 2021 | 12:29 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter

Jamaica Teachers’ Association President Jasford Gabriel estimates that it will take between two and three years to reverse most of the learning loss since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, following the disclosure that 120,000 students have been completely absent from school in the last year.

Gabriel said that he is not surprised at the level of absenteeism, which represents about 15 to 20 per cent of the school population, but he argued that it will take the input of all stakeholders, not just teachers, to reverse the loss.

“Our teachers, they tend to be very creative, and once they are given the latitude, they will develop very creative ways of bridging the learning loss and engaging our students in a meaningful way so that they can still get back on track,” he said.

Education Minister Fayval Williams announced during Wednesday’s post-Cabinet press briefing that 120,000 students have not had any form of classroom engagement over the past year.

“They are not engaged online, they are not watching TV, they are not listening to the radio, they are not opening their books, they are not in contact with their schools. Even though teachers try to find them, they can’t find them,” she said, pointing to the move to broadcast some lessons in the electronic media.

Among the reasons were illness, rain, and the suspension of classes. There are cases, too, where children do not have access to Internet service or cannot pay for mobile data plans.

Williams had previously announced that the Government intended to sponsor extra lessons when schools resume normal operations in schools. On Wednesday, she was unable to provide details of the plan, which the Government is hoping to kick-start come September if the island’s COVID-19 situation permits it.

“It is an initiative that has resonated with a lot of Jamaicans. They recognise that the children would have lost a lot of hours, a lot of contact time with teachers, and so the extra lessons is to help our students to begin to catch up and to move beyond where they were,” she said.

“We are working on the details of it in terms of how many children will want to avail themselves of this, and that will help us to know how many instructors or teachers will be required, where these students are located [and] how can we get students together,” she explained.

EXTRA LESSONS USEFUL

Gabriel believes the extra-lesson initiative could be useful, but he is awaiting more details. He would like to know, for example, which students would be targeted and which subject areas are going to be of primary focus. Of interest, too, is the remuneration that will be offered to teachers.

“I am sure teachers will be very, very interested to know what kind of rates will be paid because they have their unofficial rate that they would have engaged students for ... . It will have to be attractive enough for our teachers to be interested,” he said.

President of the Mico University College, Dr Asburn Pinnock, believes that the introduction of extra lessons will be useful, but a crucial intervention, he believes, is having more special-needs teachers.

“Some of the gaps are not necessarily just academics. Some might be special needs, and some might be the trauma of what is happening in terms of the fear of this COVID. Some [students] may experience some level of trauma in the home, some level of abuse, we don’t know,” he said.

The education specialist said he has already alerted his staff to prepare for an influx of students wanting to be enrolled at the Mico Care Centre as a result of the impact of the pandemic. The centre provides special-education services to school-aged children with multiple problems that affect learning.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com