Sun | Oct 24, 2021

Education ministry preparing for all possibilities if COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Published:Friday | July 23, 2021 | 12:10 AMDavid Salmon/Gleaner Writer
Coding student Richard Wilson demonstrates how to code for (from left) Fayval Williams, Minister of Education, Youth and Information; Kay-Marie Forbes-Robotham, Director, Strategic Partnerships Research and Innovation of HEART Trust/NTA; Andrew Pairman, CE
Coding student Richard Wilson demonstrates how to code for (from left) Fayval Williams, Minister of Education, Youth and Information; Kay-Marie Forbes-Robotham, Director, Strategic Partnerships Research and Innovation of HEART Trust/NTA; Andrew Pairman, CEO of Anbell Group of Companies; Nadeen Matthews Blair, CEO of NCB Foundation and Chief Digital and Marketing Officer of NCB; Dushyant Savadia, Founder and CEO of Amber Group; and Colonel Martin Rickman, National Coordinator of HOPE. Occasion was the official handover of $18 million by NCB Foundation to support the Amber HEART Academy and the Ministry of Education’s Coding in Schools Pilot Programme at Stony Hill HEART Academy yesterday.

Students, parents, and educators are being put on alert to prepare for any eventuality as concerns increase over the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Yesterday, Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams informed The Gleaner that “I don’t know if there is a lockdown coming, but what I can say, from my ministry’s perspective, is that we are preparing for different scenarios, both for face-to-face as well as online classes.”

She revealed that there is a strong possibility that a blended approach could be implemented when schools resume classes in September. As a consequence, her ministry is working to ensure that all schools have access to the Internet.

“We are working feverishly at that. Hopefully, in short order, we will be able to make an announcement, but it is too early yet,” she said.

In the meantime, the education ministry continues to inspect school facilities to ensure that the COVID-19 protocols are adhered to.

Jasford Gabriel, president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), has said that the rise in coronavirus cases was “predictable” as he said that the relaxation of COVID-19 protocols had gone “too far”. As a result, the JTA has begun to prepare for the “worst-case scenario” of no face-to-face classes come September.

“I will expect to be hearing shortly through the education ministry where are we, at this point in time, as it relates to Internet connectivity for all schools and in ensuring that every child has a reliable device,” he said.

While he said that the JTA has fully endorsed the ministry’s new school year plan, which includes extra classes and diagnostics testing, he once again reaffirmed his organisation’s stance that teachers should also receive technological devices to enable them to perform at an optimal level.

BLENDED MODALITY

“We have been asking for a while now for laptops for teachers because teachers are very critical to the whole process. I think we should make it a priority to ensure that teachers have a decent space to work from and a reliable laptop,” he said.

Even if all goes well, Gabriel believes that a blended modality is the only approach as it was not feasible to return to class sizes that have 40 to 50 students. Hence, investing more in devices for both students and teachers represents the best option to guarantee the seamless resumption of the new school term.

These comments were made against the backdrop of increased uncertainty surrounding the education sector as Jamaica continues to see a rise in COVID-19 cases.

On Wednesday, Jamaica recorded 138 new cases of COVID-19, increasing the total number to 51,542. Due to this increase, Prime Minister Andrew Holness warned the public that COVID-19 measures may be tightened.

editorial@gleanerjm.com