St Elizabeth, Manchester high schools ready for October 5 online classes

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St Elizabeth, Manchester high schools ready for October 5 online classes

BY KASEY WILLIAMS
Staff reporter
kaseyw@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 27, 2020

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Long before the Ministry of Education's plan to use a cloud-based learning management system, some schools in Manchester and St Elizabeth expanded on their virtual classes to accommodate students due to the onset of the coronavirus.

Principal of St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS), Keith Wellington told the Jamaica Observer that the institution has expanded its use of Google Suites.

“We have been using Google Suite since April and we have acquired the full suite, so we actually started online activities for this term two weeks ago. We are ensuring that we have interactions with all our students. We are going through that process, so by October 5 we [expect] to have one hundred per cent interaction,” he said by telephone last Thursday.

Wellington said students had earlier this month been “volunteering” to meet with teachers face to face at the institution in small groups in preparation for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), but following the recent directive from the ministry of education regarding full virtual learning, use of that method has ceased.

He said STETHS is currently exploring options to assist students with access to the Internet.

“We have the platform up and the engagement is active, but we would still have concerns about the affordability of Internet access for some as well as actual access for others. We have options that we are trying to work with to ensure that everybody has access,” he said.

He suggested that there be consideration for students without Internet access at home to be allowed to access the Internet at the nearest schools.

“Students who leave one community to go to a school in another community, if we can get them to get [Internet] access in their community even though they are not students [at schools] there, then that would help,” he said.

However, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association, Jasford Gabriel said Wellington's suggestion would have to be assessed from a health standpoint.

“Recall now the basis on which we are doing full virtual in this instance and restricting movement, so this is a health authority guideline; we would have to be guided by the health authority in that regard. I would not be in a position to be encouraging or supporting students gathering,” he said.

Gabriel expressed his concern in relation to the long-standing issue of Internet connectivity islandwide.

“… The real issue that we are having is the lack of Internet connectivity across the country, because all the measures that have been put in place are to support the online instruction...We have not held the telecom providers fully accountable in terms of a timetable for the roll-out of Internet across the country so that we can adequately power the [online] instructions for our students and to make sure that our teachers are adequately resourced in that regard,” he said.

Principal of Belair High, Lawrence Rowe agreed with Wellington's suggestion, but has raised concerns that students would have to be supervised to ensure they are maintaining COVID-19 guidelines.

“I am in total support. [It's] one of the things I am looking at doing but the challenge is to have supervision for the students; to get the teachers to come in and supervise the students. You still don't want to open the campus to anyone and [then] they come and are not observing the COVID-19 regulations,” he explained.

“I am for that, because I was exploring the option to have even my current students who are having at home Internet connectivity issues. We would recommend to the parents that they could take them to school, providing specific transport for them to come to school and use the Internet from the school and then go home at the end of the day – so that was an option that I was exploring,” he said.

Rowe said the school is preparing to facilitate all students via the Ministry of Education's online platform.

“We are ready, we are fine-tuning the uploading of our students under a new learning management system; we were previously using a different management system. The ministry has now rolled out the national learning management system so our hold-up right now is just moving the students over from one learning management system to another. Our target for that is we will be ready by next week,” Rowe said.

He pointed out that fourth- and fifth-form teachers and students had been using virtual classrooms from September 7.

“Our grade 10 and 11 students were engaged from September 7 in online learning, so we have been primarily using the Zoom, Google Classroom and Microsoft to engage them, but come the fifth of October we will be ready for all our students to roll out for full online learning,” he said.

Rowe disclosed that there have been preparations for all grade levels through the engagement of students, parents and teachers.

Principal of May Day High school, Stanford Davis said the institution has been engaging stakeholders in preparation for October 5.

The issue of Internet connectivity is paramount among the expected challenges for students.

“The only challenge we will have is the number of students without devices and Internet connectivity and the fact that some of them use data, which is unstable; and the Internet has been unreliable sometimes and some students live in deep rural areas,” Davis said.

He said May Day High was ahead in preparing for online learning.

“We are basically ready. We have the Google Suite, not the one from the ministry, because we got it before. From the [onset] of COVID-19 we had gone ahead and applied for the Google Suite and started training our teachers how to use it,” he went on.


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