In a statement today, Bunting said the Task Force should also determine the changes necessary to make the educational infrastructure more resilient to the impact of future pandemics or similar disruptions. Such changes would include: i) ensuring that all students are media literate; ii) accelerating the adoption of technology in schools; and iii) training teachers to effectively deliver instruction online.
He said the Government currently requires all students to access learning remotely through virtual platforms utilized by their educational institutions. However, surveys indicate that a significant percentage of students have no reliable access to the internet, while many educational professionals were ill-prepared and do not have the digital infrastructure available to make effective use of these virtual platforms, and household internet access in Jamaica is estimated at only 55%, which is not adequate to support the teaching and learning needs of ALL students.
Bunting noted that many parents have been complaining of an inability toafford data packages to access these platforms from mobile devices,hence the sudden introduction of remote learning has exacerbated the inequities in the educational system.
The latest update on the contract (approved by Cabinet on March 9, 2020) for the purchase of tablet computers for public sector teachers indicates that these tablets will not be available until June, and so will have only minimal impact on the Summer Term.
The Opposition acknowledges the unprecedented impact that the COVID-19Pandemic has had on the education sector worldwide and accepts that ourchildren must learn from home for the time being. Nevertheless, there are key lessons that have emerged from past forced school closures in response to disasters:
- Make every effort to maintain teaching, and teachers'contact with students, in order to prevent learning regression and to mitigate the emotional impact onchildren.
- Give priority to re-opening early childhood and primary schools as soon as medical personnel advise that conditions allow. Younger children need more personal contact, and time to play with other children. They are also at lower risk from COVID.
- Plan for the likelihood that there will be fewer high school graduates and enrollees to colleges and universities for the 2020/2021 academic year due to the economic fallout from the pandemic.
The proposed Task Force must seriously consider how to reconfigure thenext academic year to help students catch up and mitigate the long- term impact emanating from the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Opposition salutes the extraordinary initiative, effort, and sacrifice being made by some principalsand teachers during this period of school closure. Some have even worked tirelessly to organize the distribution of care packages to needy children and their families.
Mr. Bunting is calling on the Government to consult the best minds and the widest cross section of stakeholder participation in the proposed Task Forceto plan the way forward and safeguard the education of our children.
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