Thu | Sep 23, 2021

Internet connectivity out west a major challenge, say educators

Published:Friday | July 30, 2021 | 12:08 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

Should circumstances force the nation’s teachers into another bout of virtual teaching/learning, educators in western Jamaica say the situation is likely to be just as challenging as the last school year as many students are still without Internet connectivity and tablets.

Lavern Stewart, principal of Anchovy High School in St James, said that while several of her students have received computer devices since last year, many other students are either still without devices or come from rural areas without Internet access.

“We still have students who lack devices, and we also have students who are from some deep-rural areas, especially in Westmoreland, where there is absolutely no Internet service. So even with a device, they are still going to have a challenge because there is just no Internet in their area,” Stewart told The Gleaner.

“We have gotten a number of donations from philanthropist groups in terms of tablets, and we have also been distributing laptops that we received from the Government for PATH (Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education) students, but we have still not been able to sufficiently provide devices for all of our students,” added Stewart.

Camille Davis-Williams, principal of the St Paul’s Primary School in Westmoreland, had a similar testimony. She said that while her grade six cohort has received several computer tablets, they are still grappling with the lack of Internet access in their home communities.

“We have indeed improved upon our online learning issues since last year, as we have been fortunate enough to receive 35 tablets from the non-profit organisation, Cornerstone Jamaica, as well as devices and connectivity from other donors. The major issue, however, is the availability of Internet within the different school communities,” said Davis-Williams, who had to personally deliver printed materials to the homes of some of her affected students last year.

The lack of connectivity for online schooling is a major hurdle that the Ministry of Education is expected to address during the upcoming school year. Education Minister Fayval Williams recently gave a fresh commitment that Internet access will soon be made available in Jamaica’s schools, including those in remote communities.

In the meantime, Linvern Wright, principal of the Trelawny-based William Knibb Memorial High School, said his institution has upgraded its Internet connectivity to facilitate teachers and students who do not have access in their home areas.

“We have upgraded the wiring for our Internet access, so we have fibre-optic cables at school now and the megabytes have been improved from about 50 to 120 megabytes. That will assist us if teachers or students have no access to Internet, so we can accommodate them and have more numbers [of students] comfortably at school without the Internet dropping,” said Wright, who is also president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools.