By Shanea Johnson
The change is here – COVID-19. Many parents, children and teachers are grappling with the new norm of online learning. For some, it is easy to manage and manipulate the new technology but for others, it is a rollercoaster ride. Since the reopening of schools in Jamaica, there have been a number of complaints regarding online learning. I can imagine my 60-year-old grandaunt trying to understand how to use the emailing system in order to assist my 5-year-old cousin who is in her care. The emailing system can be a little complex and she is still trying to understand aspects of WhatsApp. So we can just imagine the struggles she’ll face.
In a voice note to a teacher, one parent expressed her annoyance as she was unable to assist her child. In her frustration the parent said “A don’t undastan wah yuh call an email, mi nah guh badda wid dis online ting teach, it a mash up mi head-mi too ole fi dis”. In other words, this parent is saying that she is at an age where she doesn’t believe that she should be using email, let alone trying to understand it, since it is causing her to feel overwhelmed.
After listening to this message, there are two major phenomena that I believe are taking place – the Digital Divide and the Paradigm Shift. I believe this new norm of online learning will pose a greater challenge to those who do not have access to the internet than to those who do, which causes what is called a digital divide. In addition, moving from the traditional system of learning that many Jamaicans are more acquainted with and adjusting to this new norm of online learning, is an example of a paradigm shift. Some of us Jamaicans can attest to the fact that some of our parents and even grandparents do not like the idea of change. Can this new norm cause the stress levels to escalate?
There are several other factors that some parents are faced with as they are affected by the digital divide. Some of which include:
- Being unfamiliar with some software applications.
- Becoming frustrated with the technology.
- Possessing only one device to aid their child/children
- Not having internet access
- Not having a computer
On the other hand, there are the millennials, who are “born into technology” and spend hours browsing the internet, binge watching movies and shopping or talking on the phone for hours like it’s a walk in the park. Despite this, I have been hearing numerous complaints from students about online learning. It can be frustrating, boring and it simply doesn’t work for some. I can recall while in university some years ago, I had to read online books in order to take an exam and I can tell you it was no fun. It was a struggle. I vividly recall being in class one day and the lecturer was there teaching and guess what? I fell asleep. So, I can only imagine what these students are going through.
Not only that, there are people who have access to the internet and devices and there are others who only have a limited access or none whatsoever. For some children in rural communities, sadly, they have no internet, smart phone or anything of the sort. When I first heard about online learning my mind quickly thought about children who are faced with this dilemma. I wondered, how will they access their assignments? When will they finish school and at what age? What if Jamaica is not COVID-19 free by next January? What will be the learning outcome of these children?
I know how it feels to be left behind because I too grew up in a rural community and had no internet access or device back then. But luckily, I was a quick learner and had a few good friends who aided me and after school I would visit my other friend – the library. But what about those who are not-so-fast learners or who do not have the money to use computers in the library? And even if they are able to visit the library, with the COVID-19 protocols, I would want to believe that there is a limited timeline for study periods and the number of students who are able to access the library at a given time. So flipping the coin on both sides, there are still some challenges to consider. This is the harsh reality.
In addition to that, though some of these children are millennials, they too are frustrated with this new norm. The teachers are too. One child in another voice note told his teacher that he is going to take a break and the teacher had to remind him that it was not yet time for a break as they have a set time. When I heard these voice notes I could only utter “Oh boy… This little man sounds stressed”. The little boy sounded to be about five years old and he was already frustrated. These little ones can be challenging to take care of, so imagine having them sit for hours to engage in online learning. Some parents and tutors can hardly get them to stay focused as at that age they have a short attention span.
Let’s look on the practical side of things, there are some subjects that cannot be fully explored as they are more practical than theoretical. According to Vice-Principal of St. Andrew Technical High School (STATHS), Damion Lawrence, the technical aspect of some subject areas are lost. He noted that subjects such as Food & Nutrition as outlined in the rubric, requires presentation assessment. However, the meal should also be tasted as is required for an assessment to be done. Mr. Lawrence vented his concerns and added that he will be writing to the Ministry of Education to see how best they can facilitate practical courses. He noted his grave concern by saying, “Virtual learning just facilitates the theoretical aspect.” He added, “You’re going to have some persons who have some of the certification but can’t do anything. And that will create a wider skill gap in the workforce.” This man speaks great truth as this is what is likely to happen.
The frustrations and concerns are steaming from all angles. We sometimes tend to blame the government. However, this is not a case for the blame game as the government did not cause the coronavirus to overspread our country. I believe it is now time to put the scripture into practice – that is, to love your neighbour. In so doing, those parents and children struggling to access the internet can be aided by the neighbour who has access to the technology. Remember, each one reach one.
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