Ru­ral schools bat for face-to-face learn­ing

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Jonielle Da­ley and Ce­celia Campbell-Liv­ingston/ Gleaner Writ­ers edi­to­rial@glean­erjm.com

FA­TIGUE FROM a rugged learn­ing curve with lin­ger­ing In­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity woes ap­pears to be whit­tling away at re­sis­tance to faceto-face classes amid the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Less than two weeks af­ter the re­sump­tion of the new aca­demic year, the chang­ing tune may be strength­en­ing the Govern­ment’s re­solve to place in-per­son classes firmly on the ta­ble, with Prime Min­is­ter An­drew Hol­ness giv­ing the clear­est in­di­ca­tion on Thurs­day that that op­tion could be ex­panded be­yond the hand­ful of schools cur­rently per­mit­ted.

“It is quite pos­si­ble that there could be a modal­ity which al­lows some schools, and if not some schools in to­tal­ity, some grades in some schools, to re­turn,” the prime min­is­ter said at a Ja­maica Labour Party schol­ar­ship event.

The tele­graphed in­ten­tion of the Hol­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion will likely be wel­come news for Joan Black­woodSimp­son, prin­ci­pal of Ebenezer Pri­mary and In­fant School in Manch­ester.

Ebenezer has a pop­u­la­tion of 82 stu­dents, and the prin­ci­pal is lob­by­ing for face-to-face classes be­cause the school can ex­er­cise so­cial-dis­tanc­ing and health pro­to­cols over its small pop­u­la­tion.

Manch­ester’s 350 COVID-19 cases rep­re­sent a small per­cent­age of the is­land’s 8,132 in­fec­tions, ac­cord­ing to min­istry data as at Thurs­day, Oc­to­ber 15.

Black­wood-Simp­son the­o­rises that coro­n­avirus in­fec­tion risk for her stu­dents is low.

“Most of my classes are be­tween 10 and 12 stu­dents. I have not heard of any cases in the school sur­round­ings, and we just have about three stu­dents from the Man­dev­ille side,” she told The Gleaner re­cently.

“Our stu­dents don’t take pub­lic trans­porta­tion, they walk to school, and the three from the Man­dev­ille area, I would trans­port them to school.”

Those are fac­tors that will be in­cor­po­rated into the vul­ner­a­bil­ity in­dex be­ing crafted by data ex­pert Dr Par­ris Lyew-Ayee in the State’s ini­tia­tive to use geoin­for­mat­ics and de­mo­graph­ics to forge a road map for in-per­son classes.

Be­cause of in­suf­fi­cient tablets and lap­tops, as well as con­nec­tiv­ity prob­lems, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion has of­fered to de­liver printed ma­te­ri­als for in­struc­tion. How­ever, Black­woodSimp­son fore­sees that that will not be ef­fec­tive be­cause some par­ents“are not able to ex­plain to the stu­dents”.

Ja­maica Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Jas­ford Gabriel has said that the union is will­ing to dis­cuss the vi­a­bil­ity of face-to-face classes, a sign of a re­ver­sal of the hard-line op­po­si­tion de­clared weeks ago by var­i­ous groups rep­re­sent­ing teach­ers and prin­ci­pals.

Dr Re­nee Rat­tray, ed­u­ca­tional con­sul­tant and founder of Teach Good, Lead Good, firmly be­lieves that a one­size-fits-all ban is not ten­able.

“Is it not pos­si­ble for a small school with lots of land space in ru­ral Ja­maica with 100 stu­dents who are most vul­ner­a­ble and without con­nec­tiv­ity to be al­lowed to come to school if all the nec­es­sary safety pro­to­cols are in place?” she mused on Twit­ter re­cently.

‘MYR­IAD OF CHAL­LENGES’

Prin­ci­pal of Mt Prov­i­dence Pri­mary School, Tr­isha Campbell, agrees.

Most of Mt Prov­i­dence’s 162 stu­dents live within walk­ing dis­tance of the school, a fac­tor she be­lieves would gain ready ac­cep­tance among par­ents for in-per­son ses­sions.

Campbell said that be­fore Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Fay­val Wil­liams shelved the plan for face-to-face classes, Mt Prov­i­dence had es­tab­lished a con­tin­gency plan to ac­com­mo­date grades one to three in the morn­ing, with stu­dents in the re­main­ing three grades re­port­ing for school later in the day.

The prin­ci­pal cited “a myr­iad of chal­lenges” re­lated to In­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity be­cause of heavy show­ers in the rainy sea­son.

It gets even tougher for par­ents who have one gad­get to share among sev­eral chil­dren in the same house­hold.

“I have par­ents who have to send their chil­dren to their neighbour’s house be­cause of clashes, and then the data is not driv­ing the on­line ses­sions,” she said.

In the first week of the new school year that started Oc­to­ber 5, only 25 stu­dents at Mt Prov­i­dence had logged on to the ap­proved learn­ing man­age­ment sys­tem and 70 on What­sApp.

“The rest, we are not see­ing on­line,” she had said.

Now, 93 stu­dents of the en­tire co­hort of 162 are reg­is­tered on Google Class­room, with the oth­ers ac­cess­ing lessons through What­sApp and phone calls.

But there are still hold­outs against face-to-face classes.

Elisa Craig, prin­ci­pal of Wood­hall Pri­mary in Claren­don, said that her school is plagued by In­ter­net woes. But even with that hand­i­cap, she has reser­va­tions about her fewer than 200 stu­dents stream­ing into class­rooms.

“Ba­si­cally, for me, I wouldn’t want them in the class­room. The fact that there is com­mu­nity spread, we can’t say who has it, and the fact that some peo­ple are asymp­to­matic and you can’t tell who they are would be a de­ter­rent,” she said.

Stu­dents from Mt Prov­i­dence Pri­mary School.

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