Unlike several other Caribbean countries including Barbados, Dominica and Haiti, which have reopened schools with face-to-face classes, Jamaica has said there are no plans to do so in the immediate future.
The newly appointed minister of education, Fayval Williams made the announcement on September 22 at a press conference.
It was previously announced that schools on the island would resume face-to-face classes on October 5, but a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths has forced the ministry of education to reconsider the reopening.
The minister said that instead of physical learning, schools will use a combination of virtual approaches to re-open.
The first approach will be a virtual eLearning system, similar to that used in Florida, where students can remain at home and access lessons. Minister Williams said that, “Teachers and students will be in a virtual environment and teachers will be able to teach online, lessons will be recorded and the students will be able to access conveniently the lessons.” Approximately 20,000 teachers have been trained for this platform.
Like some counties in Florida, the remote learning option poses the massive problem of students and families’ access to technology and the internet. In 2017, 33% of students in the Kingston Metropolitan Area and 45% in rural areas of Jamaica did not have access to the internet.
And although Jamaica’s Ministry of Education has committed to bridging the digital divide, with the distribution of over 40,000 tablets to students, many students, especially those living in rural areas still have trouble accessing online classes.
Noting that there is still a vast inequality in digital access on the island, the ministry has announces other approaches to meet the need of students and teachers. They involve providing education lessons using television, cable and radio; and providing printed materials for students to use along with their textbooks and worksheets at home. These are to be delivered at agreed drop-off points and at home.
Given that the island is in the midst of the second wave of COVID-19, there is no timeline as to when students will be able to go back to schools. The ministry of health and wellness had predicted a sharp rise in cases and deaths for at least the next two months.
The proposed approach could last for the entire 2020-2021 school year, while the education ministry battles with another education crisis: the failure of many students who sat regional exams during the peak of COVID-19.