Fri | Oct 22, 2021

Teachers still need proper gadgets for online classes, says JTA president

Published:Thursday | September 9, 2021 | 12:06 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer
JTA President Winston Smith
JTA President Winston Smith


While more than a year has elapsed since Jamaica’s education system was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of Jamaica’s teachers not being adequately compensated or equipped to properly conduct classes in the virtual space still remains unresolved.

In an interview with The Gleaner, Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) President Winston Smith said that while the summer period provided opportunities for virtual education training, teachers continue to be set back by a lack of satisfactory electronic devices for daily classwork and lack of Internet connectivity in some locations.

“The Jamaica Teaching Council invested heavily over the summer term in providing online learning opportunities for teachers, and many of them have gotten certificates to verify it. But we still have a severe challenge as it relates to proper technological gadgets, laptops specifically, as while you have some teachers who had gotten tablets, the tablets are not good enough for the teachers to use for teaching in the virtual space,” said Smith.

“The tablet is good to use if you are going to do research and get information, but then you have to email that information to another device because the tablet does not allow for the adaptability of larger storage devices. Furthermore, the teachers of Jamaica are not only lacking in terms of devices but also connectivity, and the cost of purchasing data is also prohibitive with the meagre salary that teachers are getting,” added Smith.

The JTA president’s remarks on teachers’ laptops echo an observation which was made last September by Linton Weir, the president of the Jamaica Association of Principals and Vice Principals, in which he outlined difficulties that students and teachers were facing in using tablets for schooling.

“The tablets that the teachers have received may need to be moved up to laptops, but we are having a serious challenge securing them now,” Weir said at the time.

That concern was voiced six months after schools were forced to stop face-to-face classes in order to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Since then, schools have had to hold classes online, although concerns have arisen that some teachers and students are not making the adjustment well.

Smith also noted that because of the lack of devices, some educators have to choose whether to use their devices to teach in their virtual classrooms or to let their own biological children use the devices for their studies.

“Some teachers are also parents, and our teachers are having trouble finding devices for their children who are students in school. The teachers have to juggle between teaching online or allowing their child to use the device to be a student online,” said Smith.

“That is a grave concern to us because no teacher should be put in that position where you have to choose between your personal children and those students under your care. Teachers ought to be properly compensated and given the resources to execute this essential service that we do, which is the educating of the nation’s children,” the JTA president added.

At the start of the 2021-2022 school year on Monday, some educators indicated that while online classes got off to a smooth start overall, some of their students were hindered by lack of Internet connectivity in rural communities and delays in establishing telephone contacts.

Those difficulties still exist despite assurances from Education Minister Fayval Williams in July that Internet access would be made available in Jamaica’s schools, including those in remote communities, during this school year.