Education needs more than mere 'commitment'


Education needs more than mere 'commitment'

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

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It is estimated that in five years' time Jamaica will begin to reap the consequences, or the fruits, of how well we handle the education of our children during this period of severe restrictions caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

There should be no doubt about the depth of the crisis facing the education system, especially given the challenges of Internet connectivity in the schools and the near-panic among teachers, students, and parents grappling with the problems posed by the need to teach online.

We in this space expect that the Ministry of Education will assume a greater level of importance than ever before, thereby attracting unprecedented budgetary support, and even another very capable and experienced minister of state.

Fortunately, in Prime Minister Andrew Holness the country has a former education minister who should easily grasp the note of urgency we are trying to sound. Indeed, there is no time to lose in getting our schools in shape.

We therefore urge Mr Holness to get beyond the usual statement that “the Government is committed” and move heaven and earth to achieve his May 2020 promise to bring forward plans to expand broadband Internet access to Jamaicans.

The prime minister, at the time, stressed that the need to set up the necessary infrastructure to facilitate connectivity, particularly in rural areas, was critical in transforming the island into a digital society.

“We need to now place some resources to ensure that the fibre-optic cables that are necessary as the backbone infrastructure for our digital society to provide that broadband Internet to the students in Portland, for example, who are now having difficulty in accessing the online education platform, those in eastern and western St Thomas… that these investments for fibre optics be brought forward and that we make them now,” he assured the country.

Last week, the Government's “commitment” was renewed, without the nation being told what had happened between May and now, in respect of that earlier “commitment”.

The truth is that, while Internet connectivity is readily available, so far broadband connection is still mainly an urban phenomenon, not to mention the cost of putting in the infrastructure that will ensure reliable rural connectivity.

Without vastly improved Internet connectivity, rural schools have been lagging behind in online classes. And it is no secret that before the pandemic our schools were already beset with multiple problems just trying to impart education.

We do not suggest that rural connectivity can happen as if by the wave of a magic wand. It cannot be left to the private sector, because commercial providers, if there is not a critical mass of people who are interested in and able to afford the service, will not make the investment.

Power supplies can be patchy, or even unavailable at times, in some rural parts. The growing instances of theft and destruction of property pose a problem of security. Then there is the matter of technical support which, we all know, can be quite unreliable and slow to respond to malfunctions.

On top of connectivity, many schools are still awaiting tablets, vouchers, and e-mail addresses for students from the education ministry. The urgency has never been more profound.

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