Nat’l effort to bridge digital divide
THE EDITOR, Madam:
As schools reopen, one of the key issues that need to be looked into and addressed is the pre-existing digital divide. There are students who lack critical resources such as Internet service or devices, which puts them at a disadvantage to do schoolwork at home. With the new methodology of teaching and learning, it is of utmost importance that the lack of access to Internet connectivity and its affordability are meaningfully addressed.
There are still communities in Jamaica without consistent electricity connections, let alone Internet. This exacerbates the issue of lack of access as rural students will find that devices will not work at all in remote areas where there is a lack of electricity and broadband infrastructure. With the education system having a greater reliability on digital learning, it is critical to address the infrastructural paucity across the country.
Even as the ministry gears up to deploy tablets, if students do not have adequate support, reliable electricity supply, and Internet facilities at home, it will prove extremely difficult for them to study and achieve their academic goals. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MoEYI) has, so far, been hosting back-to-school webinars. Whereas this is commendable, they did not reach the large portion of the population who currently do have access to the Internet. The MoEYI will have to strategically help families with remote learning by widely offering clear instructions and offline resources for facilitating learning at home.
Even with the distribution of tablets, there is the challenge of affording continuous data service to conduct relevant research. This problem is compounded by the economic hardships faced by a lot of families due to lay-offs and, in some instances, lower salaries, which makes it difficult to sustain the purchasing of service on a long-term basis. This is a tough reality that our secondary and primary students will face as it has already been experienced by our tertiary students.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how essential access to devices and the Internet is to students’ ability to access education and has profoundly highlighted the urgent need for a national effort for these gaps to be closed.