MoBay deputy mayor calls for resumption of face-to-face classes


MoBay deputy mayor calls for resumption of face-to-face classes

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — Deputy mayor of Montego Bay Councillor Richard Vernon has made an impassioned plea for the Government to consider a phased resumption of face-to-face classes in schools across St James, arguing that the current virtual learning push is causing financial hardship for parents — especially those in inner-city areas who are unemployed.

Vernon, who is the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) councillor for the gritty inner-city Montego Bay South Division, which includes Barracks Road, Hart Street, Canterbury, and Railway Lane, said parents in these communities are facing severe economic hardship as a result of the shift from face-to-face to virtual learning.

“Many can barely afford the required megabytes to access the virtual platform, not to mention the lack of access to tablets or the requisite devices to follow the virtual classrooms. A significant number of the residents are employed to the tourism industry and have been unemployed since March,” he argued.

“Many of these parents are now faced with having to find new means of learning for their children, and this new phenomenon is driving a widening gap between those who are able to access the virtual learning and those who can't,” he said. “I recently joined a session hosted by a school in the division, where 300 students are enrolled, but only 80 were able to log on [to the platform].”

School plants were closed in March, just days after the first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed on the island, with learning continuing remotely.

Councillor Vernon suggested that that the Ministry of Education could target specific schools and split the population into virtual learning and face-to-face learning, where possible, while ensuring that the necessary protocols are observed.

According to the deputy mayor, the Ministry of Education needs to urgently consider a phased reopening, with stringent measures to ensure students attend and leave school on time and also adhere to health and safety protocols.

He is also advocating that the education ministry employs, what he calls, “COVID-19 wardens” to ensure that students don't idle on the roads when schools are dismissed.

“Additionally, the Government could also consider giving special incentives to public transport operators to take children to and from schools daily. For primary schools, from grade one to three, students could attend school from 7:00 am to 11:00 am, while for grades four to six, students could attend from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Also, the Government could engage the services of final-year students at teachers' colleges to give support to the permanent teachers,” he argued.

The first-term councillor maintains that the longer schools remain closed, the more students will drop out of the system or be left behind, which, he stressed, will create a disparity in the education system where “the haves will be able to afford quality education for their children, while the children of the have-nots are left at the mercy of the society”.

“With virtual learning in place, parents are being asked to get more involved, which is a good thing. However, with COVID-19, most of the child's supervision, where learning in concerned, is now with the parents, and to be frank, some of these parents themselves need training,” the councillor argued.

— Mark Cummings

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