Delivery deliverance for offline schools
Alecia Sterling is almost at breaking point.
The 28-year-old mother lives in the hilly reaches of Mavis Bank where two of her three children attend Mount Fletcher Primary School in rural St Andrew.
Though Sterling has received a tablet from the school, the device has never been used because it is an expensive gamble to purchase data living in an area with patchy Internet coverage. Both children, aged eight and 10, have not been engaging in online classes.
“Mi log on one time in the beginning and see dem a give work, but me nuh buy no book,” she told The Gleaner on Wednesday.
“Mi can’t mek dem turn dunce bat, so mi give dem book fi read and mek dem do work out of dem textbooks from last year.”
Sterling, like thousands of parents in households in Jamaica’s hinterlands or in remote hillside districts, is grappling with the inherent disadvantage that the coronavirus pandemic has resented since the shuttering of schools in March.
Even though the Jamaican Government is distributing 40,000 tablets to students across the country, that represents about a tenth of the potential 400,000 who do not have a device or who are unable to tap Internet connectivity.
That deficit has exacerbated fears that the vacuum of learning threatens long-term academic outcomes that could have generational consequences.
Teachers at Mount Fletcher are hopeful that the home-learning kits delivered by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, in association with The Gleaner Company (Media) Limited, will present a turnaround in fortunes and press the reset button on academic life.
The learning kits were designed to engage the students with little or no need for parents’ assistance. They provide mathematics, Spanish, language arts, health and family life education, science, social studies, resource and technology, and business basics activities for grades one through to six. One hundred and fifty kits were handed over at Mount Fletcher on Wednesday.
Mavis Bank and other communities such as Guava Ridge sometimes lose electricity weeks at a time – another handicap that makes online learning miserable and near impossible.
Westphalia, one of the highest communities in Jamaica, is home to several students of Mount Fletcher Primary. The access road to the community has been ramshackle for years, with the commute made worse by storm-related rains that battered eastern Jamaica in October and November.
Householders have been sending the children’s books down to the school with the bus driver for the work to be marked.
The bus only leaves Westphalia in the early morning. On its way back up in the evening, the driver picks up the books and the worksheets. Before the woes of online schooling, students from Westphalia and Hall’s Delight only had the challenge of crossing the bridge when it rained.
Grade five teacher Nyla Louza is quite concerned about the learning curve of her students because those at primary schools in more developed areas are more likely to advance on the curriculum.
Of 18 students, she reported that only eight have come online since the term began in October.
Louza said that Internet connectivity has always been extremely poor, non-existent even, for students and teachers living in remote areas.
“We put data on a phone, and as teachers, we come to school and space out and have one central point with hotspot,” she said.