Education ministry hurries to ramp up technology use

THE Government says it intends to be a genuine partner in developing the use of technology in schools.

“The Ministry of Education is in a hurry to become a genuine partner in the technological area of our entire operations,” portfolio minister Karl Samuda told the House of Representatives on Tuesday, a day after announcing that public schools will remain closed until September 7.

Samuda said that his ministry is working with the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), the Association of Principals and Vice-Principals, the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, and the Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica to ensure full participation, at all levels, in deciding what is best for the schools and students.

“Every time that we are to make an important decision in the ministry, we convene a virtual conference meeting with the stakeholders and arrive at a position which is a unanimous decision,” he said.

Samuda, who was reporting on the decision to extend school closures to September, said that recognising that there were 31,000 students without access to the Internet, he had constructive dialogue with the principals of ReadyTV — a cable firm headed by prominent businessman Chris Dehring — that led to a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

Under the MOU, Samuda said that ReadyTV — which is based in Portmore, St Catherine and has been providing cable service to customers across the country who purchase credit, like those used by customers of Digicel and Flow to access service — will now start facilitating communities that previously had no Internet connection.

He said that he has also been meeting with the major telecommunications companies to ensure increasing Internet coverage and cheaper data plans to accommodate students wishing to access educational programmes.

He said, too, that all teachers and students will now be able to access educational data plans from Digicel and Flow, at a discounted price of $500 for 500 megabytes of data over 14 days. Individuals who sign up for the plan will also have access to 76 educational websites and platforms.

However, the minister noted that despite the strong support for the extension of Wi-Fi service in some rural areas, the two major providers had shown some resistance to expanding into some areas, hence the need for the service from ReadyTV.

Samuda said that most of the platforms being used by schools for online learning are accessible without using up data.

He also said the telecommunications companies have been very responsive to the needs of students, and have shown a willingness to collaborate and devise strategies that will increase Internet access to all Jamaicans over time, especially the 31,000 students with no access.

Samuda said that 5,510 tablets, courtesy of e-Learning Jamaica, will be distributed starting this week, while another 40,000 will be made available for distribution at the end of May.

However, Opposition spokesman on Education, Peter Bunting, accused the Government of bungling the tablets in schools programme, which the previous government had introduced, between 2016 and now.

“The numbers we are talking about, there is really one tokenism in the face of what is needed, and indeed it falls far short of what the Government committed to do for both teachers and students many years ago,” he said.

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