Tue | Jun 22, 2021

Suffering in silence - Survey finds lack of access impeding further education

Published:Sunday | May 3, 2020 | 12:15 AMDavid Salmon - Contributor

The scholarship deadline approaches and Michael* desperately needs a transcript to apply for financial assistance. The window for assistance is closing fast and the volume of documents required is enormous. He calls his school repeatedly but receives no response and he descends into uncertainty, an academic twilight zone. This has been the reality for many students across Jamaica.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, several students have admitted to experiencing difficulty in accessing their schools’ administrative services since they were ordered closed on March 13 after the island confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus.

An informal online survey between April 22 and 25, polling 230 students from 92 educational institutions, revealed that the problems being encountered ranged from the glacial pace of processing requests for transcripts, receiving signed documents and character recommendations. Chief of these challenges, however, has been the inability of students to contact administrators to get updates on the way forward.

The students taking part in the survey came from 75 secondary and 17 post-secondary institutions across the island. Notably, two-thirds of the respondents attended schools from outside of Kingston and St Andrew.

With many of the students seeking to pursue tertiary studies come September, several revealed they were facing hurdles completing applications or applying for scholarships due to the disruption of normal activities at their schools. Seventy per cent of the students said they were having difficulties getting academic transcripts and other documents, character or academic recommendation, having documents signed by a staff member, or accessing a school stamp to verify documents.

Students were asked what difficulty, if any, they experienced contacting their respective schools’ administrators in order to apply for tertiary education and scholarships. The survey also noted the services that were needed most by students at this time due to the crucial role they play in future educational life. These were:

• Receiving academic transcripts and other documents – 51%

• Requesting a character or academic recommendation – 43%

• Having documents signed by a member of staff – 42%

• Accessing a school stamp to verify documents – 35%

Difficulty in Accessing Services

From the findings, 70 per cent of respondents had highlighted difficulty in accessing these services from their schools. Particularly, major challenges highlighted included:

• Unable to apply for or collect a transcript – 33%

• Unable to get documents signed by a member of staff – 34%

• Difficulty in contacting the school’s office – 32%

• Unable to get a recommendation from a member of staff – 30%

• Unable to get documents stamped by the school – 30%

• Very long processing times by schools’ administrators – 20%

• No response from schools or institutions when requests are made – 14%

Common reasons for these requests include:

• Local scholarship applications (53%)

• Applications to local schools and universities (32%)

• Applications to overseas schools and universities (21%)

• International scholarship applications (17%)

• Examinations and other studies (5%)

• Employment and other business (3%)

Additionally, 59 per cent of respondents highlighted issues with applying for scholarships. Issues commonly highlighted included the following:

• Unable to collect the necessary documents e.g. transcripts, recommendations, reports, etc) – 51%

• Difficulty in verifying necessary documents as requested – 37%

• Inadequate time to submit the required documents – 36%

• Unable to deliver documents due to curfews, lockdown or insufficient modes of transportation – 29%

• Lack of consistent Internet services to upload documents – 17%

These challenges have been further exacerbated due to a number of companies reducing their scholarship offerings as well as maintaining their existing scholarship deadlines despite the crisis.

“I have attended two schools and the responses have been different for both,” Sherrice*, a student from a St Andrew-based institution, said. “When I contacted my current school, I was told the office is closed. For my other school, the office is closed and the school’s number is not working. So even getting through to them has been a difficult task.”

She added: “I feel like there needs to be a greater conversation in terms of how the coronavirus has impacted our education system …. Students are suffering in silence. If we are really a people who believe that there is a life after COVID-19, then I don’t think that any student should be missing out on the opportunity to access services that would ensure that they actually have a future.”

*Names changed.

Send feedback or share your story at yourcovidstory@gmail.com.