JTA president wants more support for students learning online

JTA president wants more support for students learning online

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

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AS virtual teaching and learning rolls into its fourth week and more students join online classes, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Jasford Gabriel says it is becoming increasingly evident that there is need for increased psychosocial support for students and parents.

Over the past three weeks recordings have surfaced on social media of parents, students — and teachers in some instances — expressing their frustration with the delivery of education online, and Gabriel says while some of the issues that existed at the outset remain, the connectivity issues are slowly improving.

Gabriel told the Jamaica Observer that with Jamaica not yet at a stage where any definitive position can be made regarding the resumption of face-to-face classes, every effort must be made to ensure that we improve the online experience for all students.

According to Gabriel, the majority of students will still be online even when physical school resumes, and this means that improving Internet connectivity and providing psychosocial support must therefore remain on the front burner. “There is the issue of indiscipline now on the part of students in terms of their general conduct in the virtual space and, in many instances, their unwillingness just to cooperate with the guidelines laid out by the teachers. In some instances [the students are] refusing to participate in the classes,” charged Gabriel, who argued that this could possibly be linked to challenges with manipulating the devices.

“We are having more and more issues in terms of the psychological space of our students and so there is the need for greater psychosocial support. The teachers are doing their part through the schools and the guidance counsellor departments but it's very important that, if anything, this be intensified because the period of time [out of school] is obviously taking a toll in terms of the mental capacity on the students and the fact that they're not able to be back together in one place,” argued Gabriel.

He said it's also clear that the training of teachers to operate in the online space needs to be ongoing “even if it's a case where some of the training has to be done over, because it was all done in a very short space of time. There is much to learn so that the students can have the best online experience”, said Gabriel.

In the meantime the JTA president said things have not gone as planned with one of the approaches to delivering lessons — the dissemination of printed material. “Not everybody is receiving [the printed material], but it is going. The counsellors in the schools and teachers have gotten involved in the process to assist,” he said.

Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams had indicated that the ministry has hired an entity to print and deliver the lesson kits to students, as well as collect completed worksheets and return them to the various schools.

Williams had argued that this would make the process seamless and ensure uniformity in the system.

Gabriel is also concerned about the the planned distribution of tablets by the education ministry.

According to the JTA president, schools have worked out mechanisms to ensure that students outside of the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) who need devices can access them, as promised by the education ministry, but that activity has not yet started as the procurement process is still ongoing. “The 40,000 [tablets] for the primary schools has not been addressed yet. They are running behind schedule but we just have to deal with it. It is what is before us right now. It would have been great if these devices were procured way ahead of time but it's a work in progress,” said Gabriel.

Last Thursday, during a handover of tablets at Buff Bay Primary School, Williams announced that the Government will complete the distribution of 40,000 devices under the Tablets in Schools programme next week.

The Government, through e-Learning Jamaica, began the distribution of devices to students benefiting from PATH on October 2.

The tablets are targeted at pupils in grades four to six and will augment the 18,000 tablets and the more than 12,000 desktop computers already in the school system.

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