If Ms Fayval Williams fails…


If Ms Fayval Williams fails…

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

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Schoolyards bereft of the laughter of jostling students welcoming each other back to school after a long break presented a stark, if eerie acknowledgement, on Monday, that things are never going to be the same again in the Jamaican education system.

To be sure, the reopening of schools virtually was always going to be fraught with problems. After all, in the best of circumstances, the beginning of a new school year brings familiar tales of shortages and shortcomings.

Delayed to October 5 because of the rampaging novel coronavirus pandemic, the new school year began with widespread reports of the lack of access to smart devices and the Internet, and administrators not being able to make contact with their students.

“There are quite a few challenges, especially as it relates to Internet connectivity, and so the teachers have not been able to locate many of their students online,” Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) President Jasford Gabriel was quoted as saying in yesterday's edition of this newspaper.

No surprise there — neither in his disclosure that the problem had been especially evident in the deep rural areas.

“Even though the Google Suite service is connected, you still need Internet connectivity in order to get on to the platform. We know that it's early days, as far as the online roll-out is concerned, and we are hoping that it will get better as we go on,” Mr Gabriel said.

As also to be expected, the newspaper reported that the problems were similar in the inner-city schools, where they are faced with the possibility that as many as 40 per cent of students would not be able to access online learning.

The common denominator, of course, is the perennial resource shortages now about to be joined by the sheer inexperience of operating a school system virtually.

And yet, we believe that we have detected in the attitude of the school community a willingness to be patient and to acknowledge that these are unusual times. Indeed, we liked the general approach of the JTA president and principals and determination that no child should be left behind.

This, therefore, is the moment for which Education Minister Fayval Williams has been called. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) rising star is, dare we say so, facing the biggest challenge of her public service career.

But Ms Williams, fortunately, has the goods. Understated, but focused and deliberative, she has handled big projects and succeeded at many levels, from educational to career achievements.

Her appointment as the first female minister without portfolio in the finance and public service ministry was followed by her stint at the Ministry of Energy — another first for her — at a time of grave crisis. Her placement at the education ministry is clearly not a fortuitous event.

The 62-year-old minister is a chartered financial analyst by profession, has an MBA from the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, and a BA (cum laude) in economics from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

She worked in several top financial institutions in the US before returning home to continue a spectacular career. She will need every of ounce of her experience and skill sets for this task.

Ms Williams cannot, indeed, must not fail.

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