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Online But No Line | The Challenges Of Virtual Learning In Jamaica

by Deon Clarke, Associate Writer

The delayed 2020/2021 school year in Jamaica started with much anticipation, reservation and anxiety - all in one!

And what was coming was unprecedented for sure; No face to face learning but full online learning because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Who would have thought that we would have seen such a time as this?

Usually, the summer holidays would be over, parents would be busy with last minute shopping for books and uniforms and children would be eager for “September Morning” or the first Monday in September when school would normally start.

They would get to show off all their new books, bags, uniforms, shoes and whatever else they have as they settle in for the new year. But this year, not so. The start of the school year was pushed to October 5th and all learning online!

Laptops, tablets, smart phones are the order of the day! Wifi and data plans – a must have. Whether or not you like or can afford it, online learning is the new way forward in Jamaica.

Teachers, students and parents alike will have to adjust while at the same time conforming to the new norms of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But yes, there were (and remains) major challenges with this new online learning in Jamaica.


  • Wi-fi or Internet Connection

    The problem with wi-fi or internet connection is two-fold. One it is expensive to implement and maintain although efforts have been made by service providers to create data plans to ease the burden.

    Truth be told, the wi-fi connection is a more effective method even though it is more expensive as it significantly reduces the frustration of connectivity issues as it is much faster. Those who cannot afford it have to settle for the next best option which is a data plan. This leads us to the next point.

  • Poor internet connectivity is another major issue that all the stakeholders have to contend with. Sometimes to get a signal, persons have to go to the highest point they can reach just to be able to get their work done.

    Though not everyone has issues with getting a good signal strength, you will find that there is also a lot of interruptions on the online platform (Google suite) being used for school as this is really a challenge for those who do. Not only that, the persons who have to be confined to data plans have to endure the agony of slow browsing.

  • Acquiring Electronic Devices – Laptops, Tablets, Smart Phones
    Here in lies another challenge. A lot of parents are having difficulty in accessing or purchasing the necessary electronic devices such as tablets, laptops and smart phones for their children because of financial challenges; many have in fact lost their jobs due to Covid-19 and are struggling to make ends meet.

    Though the Jamaican government have made provisions for tablets for some needy students, it’s just not enough. To make matters worse there has been some amount of price gauging due to the demand for these items. These are all additional expenses which were just not in the budget.

  • Fear of Being Left Behind

    Though the Government has provided other options for persons who are unable go online, such as printed materials, a dedicated TV channel with the learning material and additional learning resources, they were still not enough for some parents who feel that their children will be left behind, especially due to the fact that children learn at different pace.

    Additionally, some parents are not able to provide the technological support that some of the children require.

  • Social Isolation

    Let's face it, people in general and Jamaicans for sure, love to socialize - it’s just a natural part of our culture.

    Students were looking forward to meeting and greeting their friends and teachers face to face but the well-needed imposed restrictions have caused many to feel isolated.

    Even though most are able to communicate online, it’s just not the same as the face to face contact and has even led to depression in some instances.

  • Maneuvering The Learning Platform

    So, the devices have been bought and students are ready to learn. The challenge here is that teachers, students and parents all have to familiarize themselves with this new method of learning and using the learning platform.

    From all reports, some teachers were also not properly equipped to deliver their classes electronically.

    And it is even more challenging for the smaller kids as they need constant monitoring.

    Not only that, parents or guardians can be left quite embarrassed if they do not know when and how to mute the video and micro-phone on the devices.

  • Working Parents

    Another major challenge is that of parents who work. Normally children would have been off to school and arrangements made to pick them up at a certain time.

    Now, children are home and you have to go to work – what do you do? Not all parents have the option of working from home, so as you can see, it’s a challenge especially when the kids are small.

Solutions?


As you can see, the challenges are many, it is indeed crisis time and it will take a collective and coordinated approach for us to navigate.

Some agencies, local and overseas, private and governmental, have implemented programs to assist.

By the way, the Universal Service Fund had a program (link below) to assist needy students in getting devices such as tablets and laptops and funding towards their education but apparently that has recently ended (https://usf.gov.jm/ict-assistance-application)

But whatever we can do individually, or in groups, are also welcome.

These are my thoughts...

  • Join one of the many initiatives dedicated to support teachers and students in acquiring electronic devices for learning
  • Create a fundraiser (eg. Go Fund Me) account with a goal of getting a number of laptops or tablets and donate them to a school or students in need
  • If you are a computer technician repair tablets or laptops for free
  • If you sell some of these electronics, offer reduced prices
  • Donate electronics that you are not using anymore
  • Sponsor a child or teacher with a tablet or laptop
  • Offer psychological support such as counseling services if you are a professional
  • Share your wi-fi password with your needy neighbor
  • Offer homework assistance if you are knowledgeable, and even
  • Provide care packages or financial support if you can


"It is amazing how small changes can make a big difference" - Charles Dickens

And remember Proverbs 11:25: “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”


References:

  1. https://www.loopjamaica.com/content/igt-supports-online-learning-students-jamaica
  2. http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20200503/many-students-are-being-left-behind-covid-19-ignites-need-natl
  3. https://jis.gov.jm/36000-students-to-receive-20000-subsidy-towards-purchasing-tablets-or-laptops/
  4. https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/laptops-and-tablets-for-students-at-home
  5. https://goodnewsjamaica.com/index.php/2020/09/05/win-a-laptop/
  6. https://jis.gov.jm/government-procuring-laptops-and-tablets-for-path-students/
  7. https://www.lucyathertonpr.com/post/help-for-school-children
  8. https://www.nationnews.com/2019/07/21/jamaican-teachers-to-get-tablets-for-classroom/
  9. http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/teachers-share-struggles-of-distance-learning_193863?profile=1470
  10. https://www.ict-pulse.com/2020/08/5-e-learning-challenges-caribbean-countries-are-likely-to-experience-in-going-back-to-school/

Comments for Online But No Line | The Challenges Of Virtual Learning In Jamaica

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Oct 25, 2020
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Calling for Caring and Creativity
by: Cheri Avery Black

Accessing and participating in online educational classes is such a huge challenge for our children and our country. Thank you for outlining some things that people can do to help.

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