Early hiccups for online teaching process

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly is denying that there are any issues with the Ministry of Education’s online learning platforms.

Guardian Media received numerous complaints yesterday, from teachers and parents, that on day two of the new school term, the website suffered several crashes throughout the day, interrupting online teaching. Some parents/guardians also complained about similar issues with online platforms being used by some schools outside of the ministry’s facility to undertake the teaching process.

But in response to the claims about the ministry’s platform, Gadsby-Dolly said the ministry had not reported any crashes. She said the issue may lie on the user’s end.

“However, there have been the usual IT concerns which they continue to address—inability to log on, password changes etc. Some issues reside at the user’s end, so I cannot verify the crashes,” Gadsby-Dolly wrote in response to questions sent via WhatsApp.

On Monday, Gadsby-Dolly said 70 per cent of primary and secondary schools were carded to begin teaching. However, she could not say how many of that percentage had fulfilled their mandate.

Asked about a proposal by some parents to have face-to-face classes for only those students who have no online access, Gadsby-Dolly said face-to-face sessions are not encouraged during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is for this exact reason that children were to be kept home—to reduce congregation and the spread of COVID.”

However, Gadsby-Dolly said the number of students who have no internet access and/or devices to access online classes has been reduced, since parents purchased devices themselves in some cases.

At a press conference several weeks ago, Gadsby-Dolly said about 65,000 students were without devices to access e-learning.

Yesterday, she said information would be gathered at the end of September to determine how many students are still in need.

Gadsby-Dolly said in the interim, the donations of devices from corporate T&T are pouring in.

“Over 25 corporate donors have come forward. The issue is supply—so the level of donations are still being finalised as the ability to purchase devices is circumscribed by what will become available in the next 14 days. The intended donations are of various quantities—some in the thousands, some under 100.”

She said one donor has placed an order for 10,000 devices and promised that by next week a tally of donated devices would be announced.

Meanwhile, National Primary Schools Principals’ Association (NAPSPA) president Lance Mottley said teachers will also require some additional training as they navigate the virtual classroom, given some of the challenges which will arise for them during this term.

“This is not a perfect environment, when the pandemic came we all were thrust, so to speak, into this new learning environment so we are all learning, the principals, the teachers, the students, we are all learning to adjust to the new normal and it’s going to be a learning curb,” Mottley told Guardian Media.

He said while there was some level of pre-planning there were still hurdles concerning students who lack internet connectivity.

“There is the option of the printed packages which we are taking full advantage of, they are the students that teachers will put together packages to leave them at the school, parents will come and collect them and these packages are supposed to contain material that will last the students throughout, perhaps maybe about a week, so that we don’t need to have teachers tracking back and forth. This could be perhaps maybe a once a week scenario, maybe twice per week,” said Mottley, who admitted even this approach required a level of guidance.

“If we do not have the face to face interaction, where we can be able to monitor the nuances of our students, the faces, their expressions et cetera, if we are not able to do that properly, of course many things are going to be lost. So that again, once again it is not a perfect environment but it is one that we need to utilise at this particular point in time, it is available to us,” he said.

He added, “Printed materials, we need to have training in the area of using printed material to teach. Printed materials is not just about photocopies and giving a child to do some kind of work, it must follow some strict pedagogical sound principles and you’re right, would that be able to be communicated using printed materials in the way it should? It can happen but our teachers have to be trained in that area.”

Mottley said some of these concerns and the call for training had been expressed in meetings with the minister.

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