50% of students without digital devices to access online classes - JTA
Tianna Thompson of Alpha Primary School participates in a class exercise via a smartphone device at the start of the new academic year earlier this month.
Nearly one month after schools resumed classes online on October 5, hundreds of thousands of Jamaican students, more than half of the cohort in the public school system, are unable to access online learning because they are without a device that allows them to connect.
This is according to President of the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) Jasford Gabriel.
Gabriel, who is also Principal of Manchester High School, told Loop News during an interview that a survey among 2,100 teachers at the end of the first week after classes resumed, found that only 40 per cent of students had a device such as a laptop or smartphone that would allow them to connect digitally.
“It (the 40 per cent access rate) is easy to assume because even with the (Education) Ministry’s initiative for PATH (Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education) students, of the 40,000 (promised) tablets/laptops, I don’t think we have half of that amount distributed yet and the ones for the high schools for grade 11 -13 students sitting exams, those have not been provided yet so it is reasonable to assume that over 50 per cent of our students at this point in time would be without devices,” said Gabriel.
“If you break that down in numbers within the public school system you’re talking about over 300,000 of our students possibly without a device and hence the need for this kind of collaboration to launch the one device per child initiative,” he said.
He was referencing an initiative being touted by the Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Fayval Williams, and lauded the ministry for pushing the initiative which he said some private sector entities appear to be onboard with, so too the alumni of some schools.
“I think it’s an improving situation but it can’t happen fast enough because a day in the life of a child who’s disconnected and who’s out of the loop can make a significant difference in terms of their progress educationally and so it’s an urgent matter and hence the need to make these devices as affordable as possible,” Gabriel stressed.
An influential group of private sector organisations is pushing the Government to make access to these critical devices more affordable by removing all duties for at least two years. The grouping is made up of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the MSME Alliance, the Council of Voluntary and Social Services and the Business Process Outsourcing Sector.
Specifically, they want the Common External Tax and General Consumption Tax (GCT) removed to make the devices more affordable so that no child is left behind.