Calls are increasing for members of the Jamaican diaspora to support students on the island who are now battling a massive challenge in accessing digital technology amid the reopening of schools online.
On Monday, as the school year began, almost half a million students were unable to access the online learning system due to the lack of computers, laptops, or Wi-Fi access.
Speaking on Sunday during a two-school tour in St. Ann, the island’s Minister of Education, Fayval Williams said while more than 200,000 students had already logged on to the Learning Management System (LMS), there are still fears of a large percentage of students being left behind.
“We recognize there is another 400,000 or so students across the education sector that may be without a device, and so the Government has put in place a program to ensure that our students across the education sector get a laptop or a tablet,” Williams said.
The Jamaican government had committed to purchasing 40,000 digital tablets for students as part of the Program of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH), a state welfare program. Additional J$20,000 vouchers were also provided to 36,000 students, not on PATH, to help them purchase tablets or laptops. Twenty-five thousand devices have also been distributed to teachers so far.
Other private corporations like Grace Kennedy and JN Money have also stepped in to assist Jamaican students with computers and cash grants.
Dr. Rupert Rhodd, co-chair of the Coalition of Jamaican Alumni Associations of Florida, told CNW, “For us in the diaspora, we are well aware of the importance of education to community and economic development and we are hoping that both the ruling party and the opposition party work together to achieve optimal solutions to this ‘digital divide.’”
He added: “We are also aware that with this pandemic, budgets are stretched thin, and even with the realignment and rebalancing by the public officials, there is not enough to meet the new demand for tablets/computers and data. This is why we are appealing to alumni associations and others in the diaspora who over the years, have been exemplary in supporting education in Jamaica, to continue, but now, to focus on online education.”
Rhodd said many alumni Associations in Florida have already stepped up to the plate including the Calabar Alumni Association, which donated J$1 million in May to help support teaching and learning; Mount Alvernia Central Florida, which sponsored a massive food drive to help families of children in their alma mater; Jamaica College Old Boys Association has already given $12,000 of the $24,000 promised to its alma mater; the Holy Childhood Alumni Association recently made a donation of computers totaling USD$15,000 to assist students of their alma mater; and Glenmuir Alumni was highlighted by the Gleaner in May for their extraordinary effort to provide COVID relief to their alma mater.
But despite this welcomed assistance, a significant gap remains. There are still thousands of unable to purchase or who need help purchasing the technology needed for classes—which could cause them to fall significantly behind for the 2020/2021 school year. Due to the lack of technology at home, a number of schools in some of the toughest communities in Kingston have already reported that fewer than 50 percent of their students are registering for online classes.
The government had previously announced that classes will also be aired on radio and TV and printed materials delivered at drop-off points to further assist students. But for integral sessions that will be taught or explained during online classes, students will still be at a disadvantage.
Since July of this year, the Ministry of Education has established a protocol for Jamaicans overseas who want to help students. Members of the diaspora are urged to donate computer equipment to students through the National Education Trust. Jamaicans can also make monetary contributions to specific schools across the island, to assist students who are in need.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact Jamaicans, the Ministry of Education announced students won’t have face-to-face classes for the foreseeable future.
As a Kingston teacher told CNW on Tuesday, “With students unable to attend classes at our schools, a computer, a laptop or a tablet, are keys to a student’s education as a pen or a pencil is when they are at schools. Every student, I repeat every student, must have a technological device in order to learn online. Please…implore your readers overseas to help.”
Donations can be made by visiting https://www.net.org.jm/