By Priskaline Rochester
Myriads of calls for the government to make changes to the education system are now being heard from almost everywhere. The call from some is for the government to put an end to the online administration of classes currently underway and re-introduce a full-fledged face-to-face structure. For others, the government must extend the school year and do away with the summer break, and amidst these concerns, there are those who feel the previous school year must be repeated, in full, considering the number of students who have had little to no online access.
The many concerns being raised on all sides, raises in itself a concern. Is any actual research being done to ascertain numerically how many students are in favour of the many proposed changes? Or does that not matter?
It is somewhat concerning that students, who are supposedly at the center of these many discussions, are being spoken of and not being spoken to. Has any research been done to determine how students feel collectively about a repetition of the school year or even about mandatory summer classes? What matters most is not the wordy and superfluous opinions of persons who have left the school system many moons ago but how receptive students actually are to the propositions that are consistently being put forward.
This is for the simple reason that if students are not on board, learning will not take place. Learning cannot be forced and if students lack the willingness and motivation to sit through classes, whether they be summer classes, face-to-face classes or repetition classes, these lessons will be delivered in vain. Unfortunately, on the matter of proposed changes to the education system, the most valuable opinions seem not to be the most valued.
Last year at the beginning of the COVID-19 spread in Jamaica, we saw widespread agitation by some members of the public for the government to introduce the summer holidays early and to resume the school year at the end of the COVID-19 crisis. Well, we are still in the midst of the pandemic and only time will tell how long it will take for COVID-19 to bid us goodbye. For this reason, many have come to agree that we must find the best way of making do with the current circumstance. The question is, how do we decide on how to ‘make do’?
Unfortunately, students have not been adequately included in stakeholder discussions despite being the ones who are most severely affected by decisions made.
Many teachers and students are currently fully engaged in online learning and have been since the start of the year. Many belonging to this group feel a slap in the face at the assertion that the school year should be repeated after what they consider to be a year of hard work. Many others have had a vastly different experience and have achieved very little academically over the past school year. What needs to now be done is a quantitative assessment of how large both groups are and what the peculiarities of the circumstances of the different student demographics are.
Any government decision made regarding the continuation of classes during the summer break must be informed by appropriate and relevant research. What is clear is that if the school term is allowed to continue as per usual, throughout the summer break, some students will not show up to classes. What is not clear is the number of students and their current circumstances.
Notwithstanding media coverage in many rural communities giving insight as to how students are faring out with distance learning, significant numerical data must be collated in order for the government to have a fairly accurate idea of student attitudes and perspectives regarding online and face-to-face classes and an extension of either, going into the summer break.
Furthermore, there are still many questions that need to be answered in order for any foundation to be laid for prudent decision-making.
How many students have Wi-Fi in their homes? How many students that do not have Wi-Fi are able to purchase data plans on a daily basis? How many students have access to a phone, laptop or other technological device? How many students are supportive of summer classes? How many parents are willing to have their children attend summer classes? How many students are supportive of a repeated school year? How many fifth or sixth-form students have deferred their exams until next year and what are their plans for the upcoming year?
These are just a few of the many questions that still need to be answered and that can only be answered fulsomely through research. Let’s get to work.
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