Cambridge High principal hoping for early return to face-to-face learningThursday, September 09, 2021
CAMBRIDGE, St James - Principal of the Cambridge High School in St James, Harry Hanson is hoping that the new academic year will see an early return to face-to-face classes as he believes many of his students were left behind last year, due to challenges learning from home.
In an interview with the Jamaica Observer West earlier this week, Hanson noted that with a large percentage of the students attending Cambridge High School living in the rural parts of St James, the online learning space was not an effective way to reach them.
These rural areas, he said, are without proper Internet connection because of their geographical location, and oftentimes the cost to install the Internet can be discouraging to parents because of financial constraints.
“For Cambridge High School, which is in rural St James, many of the students come from areas that have limited connectivity, and when we speak to individuals working for our local Internet providers, the economic cost to run the wires to those individuals is just not encouraging when you think about how many persons would actually get the service in those areas,” Hanson argued.
Last month Education Minister Fayvel Williams announced that high school students will only return to face-to-face classes when their school achieves a 65 per cent vaccination rate or higher.
Hanson said approximately 45 per cent of the school's 1,200 students were able to access the online learning platforms over the last school year.
“What we had to do last year to get up to the 45 per cent mark was to call parents directly, but there were just some issues that were beyond the parents' control and beyond what the school could offer as assistance,” he said.
The school tried to help by carrying printed materials to the homes of students without Internet connection, he said, in a bid to ensure that those students were still being engaged.
But that came with another challenge, the principal said.
“What we [tried] to do was, we carried work to students in the communities that have [Internet] challenges [but] if you are given a homework then you are going to [need] somebody at home that has a greater knowledge level than you,” Hanson argued.
“In many cases, the students who are being helped are living in homes where the parents are not able to provide the assistance that the students need to do well. So, we gave papers and work to do at home, and what we found was that the papers came back blank because they could not do what was on the paper. They couldn't read and understand how to do the work so that posed a challenge in getting printed materials to them. We would need to have somebody in the homes to explain, breakdown and use other strategies to help the students understand the work.”
He stressed that although a small number of students may have benefited from the school's initiative, most of the students without the Internet did not because they needed more assistance.
With all these challenges haunting the rural St James-based school, the principal believes that resuming face-to-face classes will greatly benefit his students.
“For our students, resuming school face-to-face would be the best thing because they have many challenges that are beyond their control. Some of them have to decide whether to buy [mobile] data to access their online classes or buy food,” he stated.
Hanson shared with the Observer West that he also recognised that his students are feeling overwhelmed by the current online studies, after witnessing a line at the guidance counselor's office on the first day of the face-to-face summer school programme.
“We also have the challenge as it relates to the [school] being a safe space. I tell you something, when we had summer school programme, on the first day, there was a line at the guidance counselor's office. The students were just overwhelmed with the online classes and what studying from home entails,” Hanson claimed.
“One thing we found out is that students have to do more chores because they are home, so they are expected to wash the plates although they are supposed to be in class. They are sent to the shop. They are asked to look after their baby brother or sister. They have to go do some activities away from home, and all of that applies stress and [further] discourages students from doing their schoolwork,” he added.