Limp start to summer school
Ministry hoping at least 50,000 students will show up for classes
Claud Rowe was meeting several of his students for the first time on Tuesday, although he has been principal of Iris Gelley Primary School in Arnett Gardens since October.
A count indicated that 35 students were present for face-to-face interaction in the national summer school programme. But that number offered little comfort as internal assessments showed that 119 of Iris Gelley's 878 students have not been engaged in classes virtually or physically since the school term restarted last October.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on educational outcomes and learning trajectories since schools were ordered closed in March 2020.
Just getting the 35 to attend Tuesday's classes was a Herculean task, which saw the principal, guidance counsellors, teachers, and volunteers going into the tough inner-city communities surrounding the school to reason with parents. St Andrew South Member of Parliament Mark Golding also assisted.
The principal is now pleading for additional support to go after the remaining students who, without this intervention, would have avoided every strategy developed by the education ministry in the last year to get them to engage with their teachers.
The summer school appeared to have fallen on deaf ears. Some have indicated to Rowe that they plan to have their children repeat their current grade come September. Another 39 parents have pledged to have their children enrol online.
Rowe is disappointed.
“I would have thought that having submitted these children, ... some extra effort would have been made to go into these communities to access these children. It is the same 'us' calling, so if they weren't coming from October, it is hard to get them now. They know our numbers now to ignore our calls,” he said.
Fathers in the communities have been more responsive to the requests to send their children to school, but with many households being headed by women, their intervention has not bolstered the enrolment numbers, the principal said.
Rowe doubled as principal and teacher to students from grades one to three, while a senior teacher taught students from grades four to six.
Other teachers are on standby, waiting to lend support once sufficient students start showing up for the classes which will be held for at least two hours, two days per week, for the next seven weeks.
THOUSANDS MISSING OUT
Education Minister Fayval Williams has indicated that despite the ministry's efforts, approximately 120,000 students were not consistently engaged in schoolwork, but other stakeholders have put the figure above 150,000. Williams unveiled the Government's national summer school and homework programme recently to help counter alarming levels of learning loss. The Jamaica Teachers' Association has not backed the intervention.
In response to questions from The Gleaner, the ministry said there were more than 58,000 students and 5,500 teachers registered for face-to-face summer school as at July 6. More than 14,000 students were engaged online in gap testing on July 5.
“We must stress that summer school is not focused on new learning, but rather on taking care of existing gaps. We have prioritised the identification of strengths and deficiencies in the students, and have pulled from the curriculum key knowledge, skills and fundamental concepts in the four core subject areas,” the ministry said.
Currently, there are 22,082 students at the infant level, 193,876 at the primary level, and 205,751 students at the secondary school level within the public-school system in Jamaica.
The ministry is hoping that at least 50,000 students will show up for classes.
Principal of Jessie Ripoll Primary in Kingston, O'Neil Stevens, revealed that only one student from his school had registered for the programme up to Tuesday. Less than five per cent of the school's 903 students had not been engaged in classes consistently since last year.
“Once we see the numbers, then the mechanism would be put in place for us to identify a lead teacher, organise a schedule to embrace the students for two hours each day for two days' face to face,” he said.
With the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions and the opening up of the entertainment sector, Rowe is worried that schools might not reopen to in-person classes come September. The prospect of an extension of school closures for the next academic year is causing jitters.
“I am nervous, because really, my kids cannot do another year of online schooling, because even our better cohorts of students are struggling,” Rowe said.
Editor's note: The final quote in this story was incorrectly attributed to O'Neil Stevens. It was said by Claud Rowe.
– Intern Asha Wilks contributed to this story.