Revisit blended education on a case-by-case basis

Revisit blended education on a case-by-case basis

Thursday, October 22, 2020

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The problems triggered by the novel coronavirus pandemic, which have changed people's lives everywhere on the planet since early 2020, are many and varied.

For Jamaicans and their Government, perhaps none seems more difficult to deal with than having to school children at home.

As readers will recall, there was a plan for a blended reopening of schools following the long summer holidays, with staggered student attendance.

That went through the window because of the sharp rise of COVID-19 cases in September when the virus entered its community-spread phase.

Instead, the Ministry of Education opted for online interaction between teachers and students, starting early October, as well as audiovisual broadcasts and the physical delivery of printed material to students.

As was always predictable, the situation has meant many children are being left behind.

Internet connectivity, access to suitable electronic devices, etc, are huge problems by themselves.

While the Government has pledged to ensure that the poorest Jamaicans — not least those on the welfare Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) — get access to electronic tablets, resource limitations have slowed the process.

Beyond all that, many children, including those who are struggling to read for one reason or another, need face-to-face instruction.

Sadly, in many such cases, parents/guardians are themselves semi-literate at best, which means they are unable to effectively help.

Hence the obvious frustration of Prime Minister Andrew Holness as he discussed the need for a return to some form of blended education while addressing a political party forum over recent days.

Said Mr Holness: “For those who believe that the distribution of tablets and computers is an automatic solution I would encourage them to think deeper on the problem, because there are some very serious social issues as well... that not having our children in school compounds.”

Those social issues include the gap between socio-economic groups, which have always been too wide for comfort, but which are about to become even wider.

Mr Holness said as much: “Clearly, as it relates to the inequality in the education system, I am very worried that this [consequences of COVID-19] would have just widened the inequality.”

The prime minister believes creative thinking could lead to students in communities where COVID-19 cases are “very low, contained” could return to physical classes.

In such cases, students wouldn't “necessarily” use public transportation, and schools would have low student numbers.

We accept the point made by head of the Jamaica Teachers' Association Mr Jasford Gabriel that the matter is first a public health issue and guidance must come from the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

Also, Mr Gabriel, quite correctly, reminds us that online education is here to stay, and that every effort must be made to equip the education system and those it serves so that online education is efficient and easily accessible.

But, clearly, if the more vulnerable Jamaicans are not to be left even further behind than they already are, there have to be creative attempts at blended education on a case-by-case basis for schools, communities, and students.

It is difficult, we know. But this newspaper believes that where there is a will, there is a way.

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