Tue | Apr 16, 2024

Rescue kids from learning loss crisis, Robinson pleads

Published:Wednesday | January 5, 2022 | 12:09 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Opposition Spokesman Julian Robinson.
Opposition Spokesman Julian Robinson.

Opposition Spokesman on Finance Julian Robinson is calling for an urgent push by the education sector to rescue thousands of Jamaican students negatively impacted by the fallout in learning since the onset of COVID-19.

He said that these students could end up leaving secondary schools in three to five years without being literate or numerate.

Addressing a virtual meeting of the Rotary Club of St Andrew on Tuesday, Robinson said that the short-term impact on many of the students who have not benefited from online learning in the last two years could mean increased teenage pregnancies and young men “falling out of the system and ending up in criminality”.

According to Robinson, in the medium term, the learning loss would result in generations of youths who would pass through the high-school system without being literate or numerate.

“That, to me, is perhaps one of the biggest challenges that we face as a country,” the St Andrew South East MP said.

Robinson said from his own interactions with principals, it was clear that even those who have been participating in online learning did not grasp a lot.

“You have students who will log on for an hour per day because that is as much as the credit will allow, and then come back later in the week and log on again; but, frankly, they really haven’t been engaged in any meaningful education,” he said.

Last year, the education ministry reported that some 120,000 students had been missing from online learning since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020.

In a follow-up interview with The Gleaner, Robinson said that a special effort should be made to identify those students who had become “lost” and introduce a remedial programme to assist them.

He suggested that this was a far more important imperative at this time than the controversial Sixth Form Pathways Programme – the new islandwide upper-school model.

Robinson also noted that some students have started to work because of their poor circumstances and were not inclined to return to complete secondary education.

He said everything must be done to make it easier for them to access vocational training, so that they can use those skills to earn an income.

While supporting a return to in-person learning, Robinson said that the Government should do more to provide affordable COVID-19 testing.

Rapid antigen tests are priced as high as J$8,000, while polymerase chain reaction tests - the gold standard of COVID-19 detection - cost around J$20,000.

“Right now testing is too expensive, and we need to have testing in schools because the students, while they may not be adversely affected, they are going to become superspreaders because they are going to be using public transport,” Robinson said.

“They are going to take it back to their homes, where their parents and grandparents live, and then you may see more significant hospitalisations as a result.”