Tablet worries for 700 on PATH
Enid Bennett High principal concerned about students' access to online learningFriday, October 09, 2020
BY KIMONE FRANCIS
ALMOST half the student population at Enid Bennett High School in Bog Walk, St Catherine, are on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), raising major concerns that they could be further challenged due to mandatory homeschooling brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Of the 1,650 students attending the rural school, formerly known as Bog Walk High School, more than 700 are on PATH, Principal Patrick Phillips told the Jamaica Observer on Monday when the new school year got under way.
“Our guidance counsellors are organising to reach these students, whether by [delivering] meals or whatever else we can. Whatever we can do for them, we are trying to do. Our guidance counsellors and home and family life educators have also planned psychosocial programmes for these children [and parents], because, believe you me, not only the children are anxious, but the parents too,” Phillips said, adding that the goal is to ensure no student is left behind.
“We're trying, as best as possible, through the Ministry of Education, to get the tablets for them. I hope that this works out because we were given the mandate to procure tablets but we are having difficulty. So the ministry now has decided that they will take over back this role and get the tablets. So, I hope, by the latest November, that the children receive the tablets, especially those who are doing their external exams, so that they can access the online platform,” he added.
In July, the Government first announced that it was in the process of procuring 100,000 laptops and tablets for the country's most vulnerable students, for use during the academic year.
Last month, Education Minister Fayval Williams said that the ministry would begin the distribution of 40,000 tablets to PATH students on October 2, and that the devices would be distributed by e-Learning Jamaica to students in grades four to six.
At that time, she also indicated that public high schools had already been provided with funding to purchase laptops for students at grades 10 to 13, who are on PATH, and for other vulnerable students, as identified.
She said that e-Learning Jamaica would be working with the high schools to support the procurement of the laptops.
Principal Phillips told the Observer that there are approximately 350 of his students, currently at grades 10 to 13, who are on PATH and in need of tablets.
“So, PATH students in grades seven, eight and nine, in the first instance, will not receive tablets. I do not know what they'll do after, but in the first instance, it's the students who are in grades 10, 11, 12, and 13 [who will receive devices]. I am not sure that it will be enough. I am not sure how much they will be spending, but we're hoping that we will get tablets for all of them.
“We have had teachers who have gone and sourced tablets for students. That is very commendable. What happen is that they ask companies for assistance. So we have distributed three tablets so far. The guidance counsellor has also received funds for two tablets and will be sourcing tablets for students as well,” he shared.
The Observer spoke to Juliet Cameron, a mother of three who was visiting the school to inquire about the distribution of tablets.
“The Government said that students between grades 10 to 13 supposed to get laptops, but right now there is none at the school. So I'm wondering how they are going to cope? How [are] they going to do their work? Right now it's kind of challenging on me. Right now them supposed to present at school [online], but they [are] not. So I don't know,” the St Catherine resident said.
Asked if there was Internet at home, she said, “No”. The Internet service provider has not yet responded to a request for service to be installed at the home, she said.
“So it really challenging right now, especially with the data. So we need to sort out the Internet problem,” she told the Observer.
In the meantime, Phillips said only 45 per cent of the student population has Internet access, with scores among them experiencing connectivity issues.
The same goes for teachers as well; so a room has been set up at the school to accommodate teachers experiencing difficulties.
The school's management team has decided, as a result, to identify drop-off points in surrounding communities where students can pick up material for classes.