Distance learning in the COVID-19 age

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — As the debate escalates as to whether or not online lessons are reaching Jamaica’s most digitally disadvantaged children in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) continues its e-training programme for Jamaican teachers.

School lockdown, a global response to containing the coronavirus pandemic, has forced technologically challenged developing countries such as Jamaica to conduct online classes, wherever possible.

The local experience, since Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the closing of schools more than six weeks ago, has been what appears to be a dedicated endeavour on the part of individual schools and teachers to continue the instruction of their charges, through online methods.

The Ministry of Education Youth and Information (MoEYI), through its affiliate body the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC), has intervened to develop a formal online and distance schooling programme for teachers.

Leading the charge is JTC’s chief mentoring officer, Mandeville-based educator Ingrid Peart Wilmot. She supervises a gallant group of volunteer educators drawn from public and private schools and other teaching institutions across the island.

Their business is to bring their colleagues around the island up to speed in the use of the various online tools available for conducting classes via the Internet with their home-bound students.

Explaining the nature of the project in a WhatsApp conversation, the former Bishop High School vocational education teacher told the Jamaica Observer:”I have a superb team of educators who have been voluntarily training teachers across the island under the theme ‘Navigate Your Online Classroom like a Pro’.

Elaborating, she said the programme uses the Zoom digital platform and has been implemented since the closure of schools in mid-March. Now over a month and a half since, she disclosed that some 6,000 teachers have benefited from the training which takes place online five days a week with 90-minute sessions each day, Monday to Thursday, and five and a half hours long on Fridays.

Dr Winsome Gordon, the JTC’s chief executive officer (CEO), who also spoke to the Sunday Observer, said the initiative was the education ministry’s response to “the crisis brought on by COVID-19…to develop a distance education programme to empower teachers to reach their learners in every nook and cranny of the island”.

Towards the goal of achieving greater penetration and to overcome some of the challenges associated with Wi-Fi access, usually experienced in the more remote rural areas, she revealed that the JTC has secured mobile broadband modems to be distributed around the island, through the ministry’s six regional offices. These wireless devices will enable Internet access in areas not served or underserved by service providers, and will allow both voice and data connections between students and teachers.

Ironically, Dr Gordon was among educators and administrators who on March 5, before the term ‘social distance’ came into wide local use and five days before the first positive COVID-19 case was detected in Jamaica, spoke of a time to come when digitally managed distance learning will replace school buildings.

She was one of the speakers at Church Teachers’ College Research Day symposium at the college’s Mandeville campus, just over a week before schools were shuttered in Jamaica to help curb the spread of the coronavirus which was at that time raging in the then epicentre of China’s Hubei province, where families were under mass quarantine.

Commenting then on the situation ( Jamaica Observer, March 25) Dr Gordon drew her audience’s attention to online schooling which had started in China, as schools closed to prevent the spread of the virus. She saw these new developments as an indicator that “the school, as a building to go to, may be coming to an end”.



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