Graham scolds Gov't over universal Internet access
Demands information on US$237-million planTuesday, September 07, 2021
Opposition spokesman on commerce, science, and technology Hugh Graham says very little has been done over the summer holiday to improve the education system's technological readiness and ability to facilitate the continuation of online teaching and learning.
Graham, who is also the Member of Parliament for St Catherine North Western, said he is extremely concerned that the Government has failed to achieve a number of targets in relation to the delivery of devices to students and increased roll out of fibre-optic broadband Internet connectivity across the island.
“In May 2021 the minister of finance [Dr Nigel Clarke] announced the Serve Jamaica Digital Device Programme to deliver digital devices to 100 students in each constituency. The programme was to be administered through the Constituency Development Fund and financed by e-Learning Jamaica.
“As of today, no devices have been delivered, even after the requisite submissions were done by several Members of Parliament. This is a total disgrace and an embarrassment for Members of Parliament expecting to facilitate the most vulnerable students in their constituencies,” said Graham.
He added that he is calling on Minister of Technology Daryl Vaz to provide the country with an update on the project announced in December to implement a 100-day plan for a fibre-optic broadband network roll-out and the US$237-million plan to create universal Internet access.
Graham said he has heard nothing more about these projects and is concerned that the expectations for improved connectivity will not be met.
He said communities such as Juan de Bolas and Tydixon in St Catherine, and Banga Ridge in west Portland, which were expecting connectivity, have received none.
The People's National Party spokesman said he was extremely disappointed with the way in which the Government has treated these projects which are critical to the education system as the students are being disadvantaged through further learning loss.
Graham said he is urging Vaz to update the nation on these projects and to fast-track their implementation to prevent further delays in advancing the education system.
The 2021/2022 school year started yesterday with Education Minister Fayval Williams promising to intensify efforts to reach students who the ministry did not make contact with last year after the novel coronavirus pandemic forced school doors shut.
Students returned to class in mainly online modalities as the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases across the island ruled out any possibility of returning to face-to-face learning.
“For this school year we have added audio learning apps that can be downloaded on your phones wherever you, our students, are located. We also launched two 24-hour television channels — one for our primary school students and the other for our secondary schools. Live and recorded lessons will be available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Even if you only have a rabbit ear television, you can access our 24-hour television channels,” said Williams in her back-to-school message to the nation on Sunday.
She said this year, children and teachers will have access to more devices and urged stakeholder groups to leverage the technology skills gained during the last school year to proceed more confidently with the curriculum on digital platforms
The Government, Williams added, would continue with the initiatives started in the last school year to provide more students with digital devices.
“While we work to eliminate the digital divide in terms of access to improved connectivity [and] affordable data plans, we are tackling the various other inequities in our education sector, the most serious being the gap between those students who are high-performing or high-achieving and those who are not,” declared Williams.