Tue | Nov 30, 2021

Connectivity, lack of gadgets still a challenge for schools out west

Published:Wednesday | October 6, 2021 | 12:05 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer
Fayval Williams.
Fayval Williams.

WESTERN BUREAU:

While some schools in western Jamaica are now relying less on printed educational material for their students, which was the case in the last school year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators are still reporting challenges with online teaching as it relates to connectivity or availability of gadgets.

Camille Davis-Williams, principal of St Paul’s Primary School in Westmoreland, told The Gleaner that although nearly all of her students now have devices for online learning compared to last year, Internet access and consistent electricity continue to be major challenges for some students.

“Almost all of my students have a tablet because recently we got some devices from one of our partners, and we are not doing much printing work because our printed kits have been posted online and the children have access to those. But if I could get Digicel and FLOW to cooperate with us, as well as the Jamaica Public Service Company, then all would be well in online teaching,” said Davis-Williams.

LOSING STUDENTS DUE TO ISSUES

“We are struggling in terms of connectivity and keeping the kids in class, either from lack of data or very poor Wi-Fi connectivity, plus there is an issue with power outages. I might be in class today and I have current [electricity] in Savanna-la-Mar, but at that moment, there might be no light for my kids who live in Little London or Spring Gardens, and so you keep losing some of them during the day because of that problem,” Davis-Williams explained.

Victor Newsome, principal of the St James-based Irwin High School, pinpointed an insufficient number of gadgets for his students as a hurdle he and his administration are presently working to overcome.

“We did some printing of materials for our students last school year, but for the past two weeks, we have been trying to find the students who are not able to log on to the platform. Through our guidance counselling department and the dean of discipline, we have identified a number of students to assist,” said Newsome.

“We have got donations of about 15 tablets in all since last year, but we have maybe another 20 students for whom we are going to try, as best as possible, to see how we can get devices for. While we use other modalities of learning, those are not as efficient as the online modality, so we would prefer if we have all our students online so they can participate better in the learning process,” Newsome added.

Their concerns echo comments made last month by Jamaica Teachers’ Association President Winston Smith, who said that educators continue to be hampered by a lack of satisfactory electronic devices for daily classwork and lack of Internet connectivity in some locations across Jamaica.

Prior to Smith’s observation, Education Minister Fayval Williams told a post-Cabinet press briefing in May that over 120,000 students were not engaged in online classes or using other modes of learning in the past year.

To date, the Government has not yet given the go-ahead for face-to-face classes to resume, with vaccination targets for students and an easing of the current wave of COVID-19 infections among the factors being considered before any such directive can be given.