No access to education for 884 students

An estimated 882 pupils from five schools in the Southwestern peninsula cannot access online schooling, nor have they been able to get the promised weekly printed packages recently.

Even as the Ministry of Education tops up on school supplies, sources told Guardian Media yesterday that the Lochmaben RC, Icacos Government, Coromandel Anglican, Cedros Anglican and Cedros Secondary schools have run out of materials to do printing and copying.

Parent Delia Ramcharitar said parents were getting increasingly fed up and worried about their children’s future. She said getting a reliable internet supply was very difficult and she was now worried that many children are being left behind.

“I live in Fullarton in what is known as a dead zone. We contacted TSTT and they told us that we will have to sign a contract for a year. So it means whether or not we get a service, we will have to pay,” Ramcharitar said.

She explained that the schools have online classes and every day her daughter leaves their home and goes to her uncle’s house to attend virtual classes. Ramcharitar noted that many parents have not been able to get printed material from the school either.

Councillor for the area Shankar Teelucksingh, who did a recent study on issues being experienced from all schools in the peninsula, said apart from not having access to devices, many remote areas in the peninsula did not have an internet supply. He said a total of 882 pupils from the five named schools currently have no access to online school or printed packages.

Giving a breakdown of the statistics he had compiled, Teelucksingh said Icacos Government had 105 students, Lochmaben RC 86, Cedros Government 186, Coromandel AC 40, Cedros AC 46 and Cedros Secondary 420 students who had no access to online classes or printed packages within recent times. He noted that some of these schools had outdated equipment and although packages were given out at the start of the term, they were unable to provide them now because materials had run out. He said Granville RC, which has 110 pupils, was also running short of supplies.

Teelucksingh noted that high-speed internet has reached as far as Point Fortin but the rest of the peninsula, including Chatham, Coromandel, Fullarton, Icacos and Granville, could not successfully engage in online classes.

“Service providers are saying that some of these areas are not as populated, so putting down expensive infrastructure may not be financially feasible,” Teelucksingh said.

He added, “We need more support from the Ministry of Education, particularly in the remote areas of the country. The lack of maintenance and outdated equipment that they have, it is not conducive to doing large scale production of printing packages and the lack of fast speed internet makes virtual classes impossible.”

Teelucksingh noted that TSTT tried an upgrade earlier of wireless communication but this has not worked out for many parents.

“Digicel is giving a limited supply of wireless internet and costs of these packages are very high. A package with TSTT is $500 for TV, internet and Phone. The internet alone is $300. And Digicel is $350 and that is low-speed internet,” he added.

He called on the ministry to work with service providers to bring relief to pupils.

“TSTT needs to upgrade their systems and provide a more efficient service and Government needs to give TSTT the support so they could do better especially in rural communities,” he said.

Contacted for comment on the issue, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsy-Dolly said the provision of the Internet to all remote areas is being pursued by the Government.

“The provision of materials to schools to top up supplies of printing material has also begun and is continuing. It started two weeks ago,” Gadsby-Dolly said.

She added, “The Ministry of Education has had discussions with TSTT and Digicel on the issue of connectivity in these areas. Both providers indicated that they would be considering how the service can be improved in those areas, which include the North Coast and all extremities.”

She noted that the Budget also provides for the purchase of Mi-Fi devices for children who need assistance in this regard.

“The procurement process for these will begin as soon as possible,” she added.

During his Budget debate, Finance Minister Colm Imbert promised that no student will be left behind as Mi-Fi wireless devices will be provided to some 45,000 pupils from January 2021. He said Mi-Fi mobile internet-enabled devices — such as smartphones, laptops and tablets — which are within range of its signal will get internet connectivity.

He also said the Government is supporting the Broad Digital Strategy by expanding existing Wi-Fi hotspots and establishing internet cafes in all areas of the country and will specifically target students in all remote areas. This measure will also come into effect in fiscal 2021.

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