Unfortunately, it is not only students that do not have access to technology that are missing out on virtual school. Many students who also have access are simply not taking their online classes seriously. Some teachers have reported that especially within some schools, it has been a tooth-pulling exercise getting students to attend classes and to do considerable work – not because of lack of access but more or less, a lack of interest. It would be good for stakeholders within the Education sector to get a fair idea of the number of students that fall within this category. This should be the next point of focus for the Education Ministry.
While the information put forward by Minister Samuda has been received with skepticism by some, especially from members of the Parliamentary Opposition, it is good to know that the government has developed an idea of the proportion of students who are unable to participate in distance learning initiatives. Shadow Minister for Education Peter Bunting has suggested that a much greater number of students have, in fact, not been accessing online classes. While an accurate idea of the actual figure needs to be settled on, it is good to know that this well-needed conversation has started taking place.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has stated that the government is working assiduously to see to it that under-resourced students are reached and accommodated and the Ministry of Education has committed to a number of measures geared towards reaching students who have little to no access to technology and internet. Such measures include partnering with Ready TV to provide internet services to 238 schools in remote areas. Minister Karl Samuda announced that over 5,000 tablets are ready for distribution to teachers and that distribution will begin this week. E-learning will also provide roughly 40,000 tablets for needy students and 25,000 tablets for teachers. These tablets are to be distributed at the end of the month. He also stated that grants will be provided to students for the purchasing of data plans. The Ministry of Education has also partnered with various local media groups to air CSEC and CAPE classes for the benefit of students sitting external exams. These are commendable moves that have been made by the government and it is clear that thought and consideration has been given to students who would have otherwise been excluded from distance learning efforts altogether.
With many students across the country unoccupied during these times due to an inability to access their classes, it is of critical importance that they find engagement in constructive activities that will not lead them into unwholesome activities. While the government works to implement measures that will see a greater number of students included in online learning initiatives, parents must be mindful to engage their children in activities that will keep them from loitering in and around communities especially within violence-prone areas.
Factions looks forward to seeing the implementation of the initiatives announced by the government and applauds them for their commitment to thinning the gap between the well-resourced and most under-resourced students.
It is good to see that the government of Jamaica has been able to source the relevant information needed to inform its decision-making regarding the continuation of online schooling. In an online press conference earlier this week, Karl Samuda, Minister with responsibility for Education, Youth and Information, stated that roughly 31,000 students have not been able to access their classes online due to lack of access to the necessary technological infrastructure. Factions sees the sourcing of this information as a critical step in addressing the problems faced by teachers and students across the country.