PM: Gov't actively seeking a viable solution to online learning challenges

PM: Gov't actively seeking a viable solution to online learning challenges

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Observer staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

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PRIME Minister Andrew Holness says having children in low-risk communities return to the classroom is a possible solution for those facing challenges with connectivity and virtual learning.

“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.

“I always had the view that we should be able to have schools held in those areas where our surveillance shows that the number of cases are very low, contained, and where our students don't necessarily use public transportation and where the schools are underpopulated. It is not beyond us to figure that out,” said Prime Minister Holness while speaking at a Jamaica Labour Party scholarship award ceremony at the Spanish Court Hotel in St Andrew last Thursday.

Holness said that from talking with school principals in his constituency, he notedd that virtual learning had highlighted a host of challenges for children from poor households, and that the Government is cognisant that the pandemic will have widened social inequality in Jamaica's education system.

This, he said, would require possible future remedial programmes to assist those students who would have had learning gaps during this period of virtual learning.

“I am very concerned about the situation and no doubt, we will not see the effects of the out-of-school, remote, distance teaching and learning until years after. And when we are through this pandemic, we may very well have to put in place programmes for us to catch up and close that gap that has been created.

“Clearly, as it relates to the inequality in the education system, I am very worried that this would have just widened the inequality,” Holness said, reassuring parents that the Government was actively seeking out a viable solution.

“I want parents to be assured that the Government is not just sitting idly by believing that everything is fine with online learning. Like yourselves, we are very concerned and we understand your challenge. We are trying to find the solution and I will try to ensure that it is a non-contentious solution. Because we all have to acknowledge that people's lives are at stake and we don't want teachers to fall ill. But we have to be very careful, very strategic, and I believe that there is a solution and we will search hard to find it and implement it,” he added.

At the beginning of the academic school year, the Ministry of Education launched its tablet distribution programme to the tune of $1.7 billion, targeting 4,000 children.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Holness stressed that while Government's allocation of tablets and other learning devices to all Jamaican children is a future objective, this will not be possible in the short term.

“In the information age in which we exist, every single Jamaican child should by now have had access to a device that would allow them to connect to the Internet. It has to become a target of the Government to ensure that this is done. It is not possible for it to be done within three or four months. It is going to take a little longer than that for the Government to find the budget to be able to provide all Jamaican children with a device.

“It is our intention to create the facilities such that this can happen. But I think the solution to our problem is not going to be the device itself. I think we have to think a little bit more about the problem and see how we can have more of our children going back to school. We have to take a blended approach.

“Yes we have to get more devices into the hands of students. But we also have to see how we can get students back into school, how we can get them to understand and observe the protocols and become ambassadors of the protocols and let them as the upcoming generation be the brave ones to be able to live with this very dangerous virus, which by all accounts will be with us for a little while, until we have a vaccine,” said Holness.


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