Daily Observer (Jamaica)

Schools en­ter un­charted wa­ters to­day

- Society · Education

WE can’t ar­gue with Education Min­is­ter Ms Fay­val Wil­liams’ as­ser­tion that the novel coro­n­avirus has con­fronted Ja­maica with “the most chal­leng­ing threat we have faced since our in­de­pen­dence”.

Start­ing to­day that chal­lenge takes on added di­men­sion with the for­mal open­ing of ‘vir­tual’ school for tens of thou­sands of stu­dents.

The sharp in­crease in COVID-19 cases in re­cent weeks, and the need to re­duce in­fec­tion spread, scut­tled pre­vi­ous plans for a blended re­open­ing with stag­gered at­ten­dance at phys­i­cal school.

In­stead, there will be on­line in­ter­ac­tion be­tween teach­ers and stu­dents, as well as au­dio-vis­ual broad­casts and the phys­i­cal de­liv­ery of printed ma­te­rial to stu­dents.

Re­gard­ing the on­line op­tion, is­sues of un­sta­ble con­nec­tiv­ity and the in­abil­ity of many par­ents to af­ford dig­i­tal gad­gets are al­ready well ven­ti­lated.

The Gov­ern­ment says it is ac­quir­ing 40,000 tablets for stu­dents in poor fam­i­lies, specif­i­cally those signed up to the so­cial wel­fare Pro­gramme of Ad­vance­ment through Health and Education (PATH).

We note spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion for oth­ers who are not on PATH but are also strug­gling to make ends meet.

Says Ms Wil­liams: “For NON-PATH needy fam­i­lies, the min­istry will make avail­able a sub­sidy of $20,000 to 36,000 stu­dents to­wards the pur­chase of a tablet or lap­top. There will be a reg­is­tra­tion process and cri­te­ria for... se­lec­tion...”

This news­pa­per wel­comes the ini­tia­tive to part­ner with business op­er­a­tors and other pri­vate groups and in­di­vid­u­als at home and abroad in help­ing stu­dents to get the now in­dis­pens­able, but in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive and scarce, lap­tops and tablets. All who can help should.

In all of this, the psy­cho­log­i­cal/emo­tional pres­sures on stu­dents in these strange times should be very much to the fore.

Ms Wil­liams as­sures us that her min­istry “has pri­ori­tised psy­choso­cial pro­grammes for the first three days of school...”

That’s good. Cru­cially, it should be borne in mind that teach­ers, par­ents, guardians, not just stu­dents, are un­der ex­treme stress.

Clearly, too, much will de­pend on our tele­coms and In­ter­net servers to en­sure on­line strate­gies work with a fair de­gree of ef­fi­ciency.

For all that, we know that the longer ‘vir­tual’ school lasts the more ex­treme the dis­par­i­ties and in­equal­i­ties within the school sys­tem will be­come.

It’s not just the eco­nomic re­al­i­ties which dic­tate that many stu­dents will be short-changed. The harsh truth is that many from those poor­est fam­i­lies have long been left be­hind aca­dem­i­cally. Some chil­dren — even at high school level — can barely read, if at all, though they suf­fer from no in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties.

We sus­pect that even the finest, most ded­i­cated teach­ers will have a hard time mak­ing a dif­fer­ence for those stu­dents out­side of the face-to-face en­vi­ron­ment.

For the good of all, Ja­maicans must do their best to so cur­tail the spread of the coro­n­avirus that the so­ci­ety can se­ri­ously con­sider re­turn to some­thing ap­proach­ing nor­mal school within months.

That means all must es­chew care­less be­hav­iour and fol­low ANTI-COVID-19 pro­to­cols, in­clud­ing the wear­ing of face masks ev­ery­where; and all must prac­tise so­cial dis­tanc­ing, avoid­ance of crowded sit­u­a­tions, and so forth.

Ex­perts agree that ad­her­ence to es­tab­lished pro­to­cols by ev­ery­one is the only way to stop the virus.

All Ja­maicans — not least those wor­ried about their chil­dren’s education — must treat ANTI-COVID-19 pro­to­cols as pri­or­ity go­ing for­ward.

Ex­cept for the views ex­pressed in the col­umn above, the ar­ti­cles pub­lished on this page do not nec­es­sar­ily rep­re­sent the views of the Ja­maica Ob­server.

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