Wednesday 28 October, 2020

Students will not return to classroom Oct 5; online, TV among options

Jamaican students will not be going back to the classroom on October 5 as was previously announced, according to Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams.

The minister made the announcement on Tuesday during a virtual press conference from the Office of the Prime Minister as she acknowledged that the continuing surge in COVID-19 cases on the island had made it impractical to facilitate face-to-face instruction in schools.

As of Tuesday, Jamaica had on record, 5,270 cases of COVID-19 and 75 deaths.

Williams explained that three approaches will be taken to facilitate learning by students.

The first is the online approach in which students will remain at home and access lessons via the education ministry’s Learning Management System (LMS) in which teachers and students will be in a virtual environment.

“The teachers will teach online, the lessons will be recorded and the students will be able to access (the lessons), at their convenience, as many times as they would like,” said Williams while pointing out that this approach would help students improve their mastery of the subject matter. She noted that some 20,000 teachers have already been trained to use the online LMS which is a cloud-based system.

Under the second approach, the ministry will be providing lessons or the platform for lessons using television, cable and radio. Both TVJ and CVM Television will be providing a 24-hour dedicated channel alongside cable company Ready TV as of October 5.

“Students will get classes via TV, cable or radio and the ministry will provide the schedule,” Williams stated.

The third approach will see the ministry providing printed materials for students to utilise along with their textbooks and work sheets at home. These will be delivered to agreed drop off points and at home. The minister said this approach is particularly applicable for students without internet access.

“We recognise that schools can, and will use a combination of these approaches where possible, appropriate and safe,” said Williams.

She noted that some principals have expressed that they would want to facilitate some amount of face-to-face interaction — especially in deep rural areas where there is no internet access — to facilitate the examination cohort, and where there may be a lack of supervision at home. However, Williams said the ministry will be guided by the health-related information and the completion of the health inspections in schools.

“And so overtime, depending on how we move through this pandemic we will know better how to bring students back in the physical environment in a safe way,” the minister said.

Pointing out that with just 9,234 of the 32,617 students who sat the CSEC examinations obtaining passes in five or more subjects, including mathematics and English language, Williams told the press conference that “there is an urgency for us to get all students back in the learning mode as regards to formal education but, having said that, we recognise that we are in a pandemic like no other, where fears and anxieties are high”.

She said while schools “are considered reopened as of October 5, 2020 to deliver formal education to students…the important question is what approach will schools use to deliver the teaching and learning experience”.

Some stakeholders had objected to face-to-face interaction come October 5, among them the president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, Jasford Gabriel, who is also a member of the ministry’s newly established E-COVID Management Taskforce. The taskforce was established to guide the safe reopening of schools but stakeholders have argued that the high rate of community transmission of COVID-19, and with some students and teachers having pre-existing conditions, there is no way to ensure everyone remains safe.

Last Friday, the ministry said its plan for reopening schools included various approaches which would involve face-to-face class engagement; a hybrid (i.e. face-to-face and remote learning) and full remote learning.

Jamaican students have been away from the classroom for over six months. Schools have been shuttered since March 13 — three days after Jamaica recorded its first confirmed case of the coronavirus.

— Lynford Simpson

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