Parents nervous about virtual classes as schools push to get all involvedTuesday, October 06, 2020
BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
SCHOOLYARDS normally teeming with children for back-to-school were empty yesterday with the reality of an ongoing pandemic sinking in even further.
A pivot by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, from physically reopening schools to having students across the island remain at home as they have been for the past seven months meant continued adjustments for parents, teachers and their students for the new school term.
Scores of parents braved inclement weather yesterday, turning up at schools across rural St Andrew to collect textbooks, as the ministry has announced its three-pronged approach to the resumption of school virtually to include the distribution of printed learning material for students who do not have Internet services to access online platforms.
Last Friday the ministry launched the distribution of 40,000 tablets to students on the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education, targeting students in grades four to six.
However, parents who spoke with the Jamaica Observer, while largely in agreement with the Government's decision to have children learn at home, were adamant about the need for Internet access.
“Every child deserves the right to learn and if they have to go online to learn that is what we have to do. And as parents we just have to work with them at home and help them the best way we can. But the Government has to make sure that the children can go online,” said Ann-Marie Forbes, the grandmother of a grade three student at St Benedict's Primary School in Seven Miles Bull Bay.
The woman was relieved at having her grandson remain at home, citing concerns about the spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on island.
“I rather him stay at home. I don't want him to get exposed to the coronavirus; I can't manage that. The way it is right now with the coronavirus and sending the children back to school is a concern for me. They don't know anything about social distance; they cannot follow most of the protocol to protect themselves. So I prefer it this way,” said Forbes.
Kesha Nunes, a parent of three students at the Golden Spring Primary School, was looking forward to the physical resumption of school, saying the circumstances at home are the most suitable for learning.
“It is new but we have to work with it. I have Internet but it on and off. I wanted them to come to school because I don't think they can manage at home. I don't have enough space; that is my problem,” said Nunes.
School administrators who spoke with the Observer yesterday reported continued challenges with Internet access.
Paul Messam, principal of Red Hills Primary School, reported glitches with the Internet during virtual orientation with students and their parents yesterday morning.
“We had some technical problems with the Internet this morning. The entire area was having Internet problems. And since this morning, the teachers have been engaging with their students for orientation and we had some challenges with passcode, but that is being sorted out,” said Messam, adding that despite this, the school still managed to reach the majority of its students online.
“We had over 200 parents joining online with the teachers for orientation this morning and the children are excited; they want to come back to school.
“Many of the students, however, still have challenges accessing the Internet, but we are trying to reach as many of them as possible. Those students who we can't engage online, we will be dropping off material for them at their homes.
“We are trying our best not to leave out any student, even if we have to walk to get material to them at home,” said Messam.
Justin Duncan, principal of the Bull Bay Primary School in 10 Miles, Bull Bay, said lack of connectivity for students was the main challenge facing the school.
“We are facing serious challenges with Internet connectivity for many of our students. Our teachers have been here since morning making copies of learning material for the parents of these students to come and pick up.
“We are trying our best to reach those students and to ensure that they are informed and kept abreast with whatever learning materials and information we have for them,” Duncan added.
Meanwhile, at the Stony Hill Primary School, Vice-Principal Shirley Williams reported reaching 65 per cent of students virtually for orientation.
“We were hoping to reach 80 per cent. But many of parents do not have any data or any Wi-Fi, so for those persons we will have to provide printed material for them.
“We don't have the Google classrooms yet, but our teachers are being trained. We also have not received all of the students' e-mail addresses as yet for the Google learning platform, but as soon as we have the e-mails, we will go on-board with that, and the students will be having classes starting Monday,” said Williams.
“We reached about 65 per cent of our students and our teachers have been meeting on Zoom with the parents where we are doing orientation today. They are also doing some psycho-social work with the students, calming fears, telling them what to expect and how we are going to proceed,” she added.
Marlene Foster, vice-principal of Golden Spring Primary School, also reported higher levels of online engagement with students.
“We have a mixture of students who could join online and those did not. I know that for one class, at least 40 students joined the orientation online, while another had about 13 students. But, as we know, some homes do not have Internet connectivity so it would be hard for them to join online. The students who were not able to join online, we are trying to reach them. Parents are also coming in to collect textbooks that the ministry delivered to us,” said Foster.
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