By Vannessa Gordon
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 who fall within this category. This should be the next point of focus for the Education Ministry.
While the information put forward by the Ministry of Education has been received with skepticism by some, 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. However, it has to be recognized that many students are suffering from fatigue and anxiety and have simply gotten to the point of no longer caring about online learning. 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.
Earlier on, at the onset of the pandemic, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has stated that the government would be 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 have included partnering with Ready TV to provide internet services to 238 schools in remote areas and embarking on a mass-distribution programme to get over 5,000 tablets to teachers and students. E-learning also provided laptops for under-resourced students as well as tablets for teachers.
The government also committed to providing grants to students for the purchasing of data plans. The Ministry of Education had also partnered with various local media groups to air CSEC and CAPE classes for the benefit of students sitting external exams. These are all 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.
What is now needed is for despondent and demotivated students to be reached systematically since without a specific motivation to push through the challenges of the pandemic, the various resources being made available to students will simply be underutilized.
The recent news that has surfaced of many teachers completing SBAs for their students should not be surprising because so many students have lost motivation and have simply given up and teachers are having a hard time getting students to do their own work. These students are not putting in the work required and are only being prodded along by their teachers and parents in some cases. This situation will only result in a number of students falling through the cracks – that is, passing through the education system without a sound academic background.
With many students across the country unoccupied during these times due to either an inability to access their classes or general indifference, it is of critical importance that the government resume face-to-face teaching at the soonest possible time. Students must 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.
As we seek to navigate through the challenges of a global pandemic and to return to a state of normalcy, we can’t afford to leave our students behind. Parents and teachers must work together to ensure that students get the support they need to put in the work required and to perform at their best.
Vannessa Gordon is a graduate student and an educator.
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