JTA head worried about Internet access as schools prepare to reopen

President of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) Jasford Gabriel says with the planned reopening of schools less than a month away, it is critical that the Government clearly outlines the progress that has been made for the expansion of Internet access across the island.

Since the closure of schools in March, because of the COVID-19 crisis, there have been increasing concerns about the lack of broadband access for students especially in rural areas.

“It’s very important for us as the teachers’ association to be made aware of the progress that has been made in terms of broadband access across the country so that we can can project to what extent we will be able to improve the level of connectivity to our students,” Gabriel told the Jamaica Observer.

He noted that teachers are also grappling with the deficiency in Internet penetration as they live in some of the areas where students do not have connection.

According to Gabriel, the plan to provide data support for teachers has not materialised and remains a concern for educators. “Last time we had concerns about data support for teachers and that concern is coming up again, because some of our teachers have to be purchasing data although an arrangement was made to give support to our teachers through the school boards in and through the ministry.

“It didn’t work as we anticipated and so we got a lot of concerns and complaints from teachers who sent in applications for assistance and nothing was forthcoming,” charged Gabriel.

The education ministry has said that in its proposed blended approach to delivering lessons in the new school year there will be no over reliance on virtual learning, but Gabriel argued that at this time stakeholders must be making the necessary investments in infrastructure for Internet access and to give support to teachers to bridge the gaps.

“We are losing a whole generation of students if we don’t move quickly to educate our students as efficiently as we can,” said the recently installed JTA president.

Gabriel said time lost over the past six months due to the pandemic may not be recoverable and that strategic and creative programmes will have to be developed to make amends as best as is possible.

“We will not be able to recover all and to be where we have to be, that’s a reality and so part of the training that is going on (now) with teachers is how we prepare to do the diagnostic testing so that we can ascertain the gaps that exist and see how we can offer the support to the students who are behind, while we seek to bridge the curriculum.”

He said it should also be borne in mind that preparations have to be made in the system for exit exams and this will require dialogue with the examination bodies around the management of content for those exams.

“When we have lost so much time it is going to be virtually impossible to recover and to be where we are supposed to be so we have to use creative means and the intervention programmes to make sure that what we are doing is relevant to meet the 21st century demands,”he said.

Gabriel argued that special programmes must be a part of the mix in helping students to get back on track.

“The divide is so great among schools that some schools are much further behind than others . So different schools will have to design different programmes in terms of how they’re going to manage the varying numbers of students that are falling behind,” added Gabriel who noted that along with the training of teachers to deliver online lessons the education ministry has engaged administrators in seeking to streamline the virtual platforms that schools use to interact with students.

He said one of the platforms being considered for all schools is the Google suite learning management system.

“It carries the Google Classroom that actually has more features than the Zoom (app) because it is designed for this purpose and they’re also working on a content app, where you’ll find content relevant to your subject area,” outlined Gabriel.

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