By Crisan Evans
We are now in the first week of September which means that parents, students, and teachers would have already been preparing for the ‘back to school’ period. But this year’s preparation is different from that of any other as persons are fraught with anxiety. They must now consider the spreading of the coronavirus. The Government, as well as schools, are now seeking ways to balance the need to protect students and teachers and the desire to welcome students into a physical learning environment.
To date, Jamaica has recorded a total of 1,686 cases. While the opening of some schools has been pushed back to October 5, universities such as the University of Technology, Jamaica, have already started online classes.
A few days ago, I heard my mother talking about fixing a laptop just in case my brother will have to attend classes online. She then complained about how costly it would be to get it fixed and the expenses she might have to cut back on to get it done. Like my mother, I am sure many others will have to do the same – cut costs to facilitate a working environment or specific technological tool. There are, however, many who have neither access to the internet nor a laptop or a computer that can be fixed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us more aware of many things and one such thing is the huge digital divide that still exists in Jamaica. The pandemic has made this even worse. Once upon a time, computer shops in small communities and libraries were open. Now parents will have to make the sacrifice of contacting either Flow or Digicel – a bill they would have been trying to avoid. Buying credit for the purchasing of data service is out of the question as the data would not be enough to join online classes, consistently communicate with teachers, and download class material. This would only add to the parents’ financial burden.
The Ministry of Education’s slogan, “Every Child Can Learn, Every Child Must Learn” now seems to be unreachable, as the coronavirus continues to increase its numbers. Today, more than ever before, there is a high chance many students will be left behind. Remote learning is especially going to be tough on students who will have to deal with the challenge of an unstable working environment. Many children will struggle to thrive in such environments, while the need for hands-on guidance and emotional support will be crucial for learning to take place.
The question here then is, how will the government prioritize the learning of those vulnerable to being left behind? How will they offer an environment that will prioritize these students without putting them and their families at risk?
By providing the necessary resources – internet access and a stable learning environment – the government can effectively help disenfranchised students by allocating these resources to facilitate them with their learning. A well organized and safely tested transportation system can be used to facilitate the commuting of these students to and from schools. Additionally, a sanitization, mask allocation, and temperature testing station should be erected at each school’s entrance, and classrooms should be structured to meet and maintain the social distancing protocols.
If it is impossible to provide these then the government will have to provide the necessary resources to ensure every student has access to the internet, as well as a supporting system that ensures effective learning. No student should be left behind, and this can be used as a starting point in the race to effectively reduce or remove the digital gap that has been lingering in Jamaica for many years.
Crisan Evans is a content creator and journalist whose passion lies in unravelling stories, reading, and writing poetry and other creatives. She completed her studies in Journalism at CARIMAC, UWI and wants to contribute to changes in society through her journalism career.
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