Tuesday 20 October, 2020

Optimistic teachers at Clifton Basic set sail for new school year

Sharon Byfield, Principal at the Clifton Basic School in Bernard Lodge Portmore, explains to Gordon Webster, General Manager of Technology and eChannels at Hardware & Lumber Limited, some of the difficulties her school currently faces as they transition to remote learning for the upcoming academic year.

Sharon Byfield, Principal at the Clifton Basic School in Bernard Lodge Portmore, explains to Gordon Webster, General Manager of Technology and eChannels at Hardware & Lumber Limited, some of the difficulties her school currently faces as they transition to remote learning for the upcoming academic year.

Not only has the most recent wave of COVID-19 rocked the Jamaican education system, it has also forced some educators to confront the fact that not all schools seem to be in the same boat.

While those with access to sufficient resources are slowly managing to chart their way through this new normal, many smaller institutions, especially those in the early childhood sector, are at grave risk of capsizing.

For Sharon Byfield, principal of the Clifton Basic School in Portmore, the Ministry of Education’s stance prohibiting ‘face-to-face’ instruction means that her school will be facing rough seas this semester.

“Many people might think that being a small school means that we have it easier than most with supporting e-learning, but that is far from the truth,” shared Byfield. “Yes we only have three teachers and around thirty students, but you have to understand that almost all of our students are from very low-income homes in and around the community. This means that only a fraction of them can afford to pay their school fees, especially when COVID-19 has left so many parents without work. If it weren’t for sacrifices made by our teachers, support from donors, and the Early Childhood Commission, our school wouldn’t stand a fighting chance.”

With increasing emphasis being placed on remote learning, Clifton Basic is among those schools struggling with the additional costs that come with limited access to digital solutions.

“We will be getting some training from the Early Childhood Commission on how to use the Google classroom, but in the meantime, we have to rely heavily on WhatsApp. This means that parents have to be particularly involved in the process. Some of them can’t even afford data or don’t really understand how to instruct their children, so we are also providing hard copies for them to work with. That also means that we now have an increasing need for bulk printing,” mentioned Byfield.

Helping to meet their needs is Hardware & Lumber (H&L) Limited who recently donated a laptop, printer and ink cartridges to the institution.

“Some people would otherwise take things like a personal computer for granted,” said Gordon Webster, general manager of technology and e-channels at H&L. “Times like these are a reminder for us to be humble, grateful, and on the lookout for those who could benefit from the everyday blessings we easily disregard. When you look at the resilience of  Byfield and her staff—despite the uneven playing field, they’re working so hard all for the sake of their students—we can’t help but respond to their efforts with whatever we can do.”

Despite the obstacles that lay in wait for the Clifton Basic family, the school’s principal remains optimistic that a successful academic year is still possible.

Byfield noted, “The academic year looks challenging, but my teachers and I are committed to using all our skills and clever thinking to achieve the best results for our young ones. We’re looking into the Government’s full WiFi access for our school, learning resources for our parents, and a feeding program for those students who we know haven’t been getting adequate nutrition at home. We remain hopeful that between the government and private sector groups, we can make the rest of this year relatively smoother sailing.
 

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