'Wheel and come again'

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'Wheel and come again'

Opposition says Govt's plan will fail Jamaican students

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, October 01, 2020

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OPPOSITION spokesman on technology Julian Robinson says the Government's plan for the virtual reopening of schools does not go far enough and will leave an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 students without devices to access lessons.

“This plan will fail the Jamaican students,” Robinson asserted.

He was responding to a statement delivered in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, by Education Minister Fayval Williams, on the October 5 virtual reopening of schools.

She told the House that of the 40,000 tablets that are to be issued to students on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) as of October 2, 36,000 are already on the island and the remainder are to be available by November. The devices will go to students in grades four to six.

Robinson also questioned the rationale for school principals being asked to procure tablets. He argued that principals are not procurement officers and would not be able to benefit from advantages such as volume discounts.

According to Williams, high schools have been provided with the funding to procure laptops for students in grades 10 to 13 who are on PATH, and for other vulnerable students, as identified.

“You have e-Learning [Jamaica] that has expertise in procuring tablets, and now the Government has given money to principals, asking each principal to go out there and procure tablets for their schools. How can that make sense?” Robinson questioned.

“This plan does not go far enough, and the risk that we face is that we haven't had in-person school from March of this year, and we have students who have had no access to education whatsoever... in a best-case scenario, with your plan, you will not get to 100,000 students... The Government needs to wheel [and] come again with a plan that can take care of the majority of Jamaican students,” he argued.

Robinson also reiterated his call for the Government to remove the General Consumption Tax on laptops, to allow parents to purchase these at lower costs.

In her statement to the House of Representatives on the approach being taken, the education minister said the first approach is online access to lessons. This means students will remain at home and log in to the ministry's learning management system for the delivery of lessons in a virtual classroom, which will be recorded for students to access at their convenience.

To access lessons online, students will need to have a device (laptop, tablet or smartphone) with Internet connectivity.

Other approaches include the broadcast of lessons on free-to-air television and the delivery of printed material.

Williams informed the House that 15,466 teachers and 190,352 students have already signed on and are using the learning management system. She said this represents 32 per cent of students across early childhood, primary, secondary, and tertiary levels, at both public and private institutions.

She also advised that, under a partnership with Google, all educational institutions will be provided with a G Suite for education account through the ministry's online domain

She said, too, that this means all teachers and students will have an e-mail account provided by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, with which to access the system.

The learning management system, according to Williams, will also provide school leaders, teachers and students with access to a collection of applications to perform tasks such as manage e-mail accounts, create presentations, schedule and track events, centrally store files, create spreadsheet documents, utilise the electronic whiteboard (Jamboard), record students' grades, and provide access to central monitoring for education officers to better support schools.


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