By Romell Eubank
The government, through the education ministry, kicked off the 2020-2021 academic year on October 5, 2020, as opposed to the early first week of September, as is traditional. This was due to the coronavirus pandemic that has been negatively affecting almost every sector of human life around the world. Due to the coronavirus’ high transmission rate, there has been a rapid increase in the number of cases being reported daily, with Jamaica seeing cases reported in mostly triple digit numbers, daily.
To battle the person to person spread of the virus, the government has produced guidelines that encourage citizens to maintain at least six feet distance apart and also to avoid touching surfaces in public places.
Taking the guidelines implemented by the government into consideration, having face-to-face classes would be risky for stakeholders of the education system. Hence, the idea of virtual classes was floated around and after careful consideration, the government decided to go ahead with the idea.
However, virtual classes have been met with many obstacles. Despite the government promising devices for students on the PATH programme and small forms of assistance to those not on the programme, many of these devices are yet to be delivered. It was, therefore, a foolish move by the government to even begin classes without ensuring these devices were delivered and that every child has access to a device. According to the new president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), Mr. Jasford Gabriel, only roughly 36% of students have been able to attend classes online. This means that 70% of the nation’s students have little or no access to a device. This was a master failure on the government’s part.
Coupled with the issue of lack of devices, there stands the issue of no or very slow internet connections. Despite the upcoming fourth industrial revolution, our telecommunications companies seem to not be making any move to improve their systems to reach customers in deep rural areas or to even improve their internet inefficiency to reduce the stresses of their disgruntled customers.
The private sector is also at fault. Despite benefiting from citizens’ support, only a small segment has taken the task of acquiring devices for our students. While educating our students is the responsibility of the government, the participation of all stakeholders is also needed. Many businesses can acquire at least one hundred devices with great ease, but some of them would rather criticize the government and wait patiently for failure before giving a helping hand.
Considering these and many other setbacks, it is a good idea to halt the virtual classes until this pandemic ceases or to put measures in place to ensure every student has a device and internet connection to have classes. Face-to-face classes is a bad idea because we do not have the resources or building space to hold students without risking them becoming infected by the coronavirus. We, however, have the resources to ensure each and every child has a device. The government must act now. The education of our younger generation is at great risk.
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