Fri | Oct 22, 2021

Tech challenges linger as west kicks off school year

Published:Tuesday | September 7, 2021 | 12:08 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

Educators across western Jamaica were pleased with yesterday’s start of the new school year despite reports of a few technological glitches as classes commenced via the online platform due to COVID-19 containment restrictions.

Yvonne Miller-Wisdom, principal of the John Rollins Success Primary School in St James, told The Gleaner that hundreds of students logged on for the school’s devotional exercises, even as psychosocial support meetings are being set up to help students and staff who may require emotional assistance.

“We had general devotion this morning and we had over 500 students participating in devotion, and others came in late and went straight to their classes. If we had over 500 students this morning, then the number had increased over last year because we would normally have had over 300 online,” Miller-Wisdom said yesterday.

“We will also be having some psychosocial support meetings with the staff and also for parents and students because some would have lost family members or had family members who were sick, and some of them have that baggage coming into the classroom. Therefore, that psychosocial aspect will have to be dealt with,” Miller-Wisdom added.

Eugenie Simpson, principal of the Sandy Bay Primary School in Hanover, said that her teachers have already begun arranging their online class settings.

“The Google Classrooms were created, and teachers have set up their classes and have started putting up their introductory activities, getting the parents and students engaged. The glitches have been minor, such as some telephone contacts not getting through right away, but we are pretty good thus far and all the classes are there,” said Simpson.

Internet connectivity

Norman Allen, headmaster at Frome Technical High School in Westmoreland, said that while Monday’s online orientation exercise went well, the lack of Internet connectivity for some of his students in rural communities continues to be a major obstacle.

“We are running orientation this week, and things went well and the students are eager to be back in school, although some are a bit disappointed that we have to be online. But many of my children will continue to have issues because some are from the hilly areas where Internet access is just not available, so I expect a number of my students to have connectivity issues,” explained Allen.

While classes are held online and through other media to keep students engaged, the Ministry of Education has indicated that it will conduct periodic assessments, beginning the week of September 20, to determine when face-to-face classes can begin for early childhood and secondary school students.

However, in a release yesterday, Hugh Graham, the opposition spokesman on commerce, science and technology, expressed disappointment that more was not done over the summer break to improve the education system’s technological readiness and ability to facilitate online classes.

He called on Technology Minister Daryl Vaz to update the country on plans to implement a fibre-optic broadband network. Vaz had announced in May that 196 schools would be connected to the existing islandwide broadband network for access to high-speed Internet during this current school term.

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