JTA calls for review of remote teaching methods

THE Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) says there needs to be a break in remote teaching and learning to review the methodology and the tools that are being used to continue educating the nation’s children at this time.

“There must be some sort of pause in-between. There needs to be some time when we take a step back and we look at what has transpired so far, evaluate and see what structures need to be put in place, rather than just going ahead and losing some of the people. We need the training of teachers, and of students, to use the [virtual] platforms, because some of them are just there, but are they really coping with the digital transformation that is taking place? I’m not sure,” JTA President Owen Speid told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

He was speaking against the background of the announcement by portfolio minister Karl Samuda on the situation confronting the education system and plans for the way forward.

Speid suggested that days should be set aside each week for training and to facilitate forward planning as COVID-19 could linger after the planned reopening of schools in September.

“If it lingers we will have to continue online teaching, so there must be a concerted effort to pause, even if it’s one day per week, and to use those times to actually do training of all the participating stakeholders, maybe even parents included, because some of them may be there guiding the younger ones who cannot even read so well. You also have the special needs children and the early childhood children; they need to get some sort of help,” the JTA head said.

Meanwhile, Speid said the JTA would not get into a quarrel with policymakers over the exact number of students who have been disenfranchised due to lack of Internet access.

On Monday, the education minister said 31,000 students have not been able to access virtual learning, but in the House of Representatives yesterday, Opposition spokesman on education Peter Bunting challenged those figures. According to Bunting, the evidence suggests that between 25 and 50 per cent of students only are receiving a minimum acceptable level of remote learning.

Speid said, “Any number put out there is going to be speculative because there is no scientific thing that was put out to gather the data. We think that it is more, and whatever it is, it is still significant and that’s the point we shouldn’t miss. What I would like to see us do is try to get the telecommunications giants to establish some more hot spots in some of the inner-city and deep-rural areas, to see if they can widen that bandwidth and capture some more of the children out there who are being disenfranchised. It’s not fair for us to be just soldiering on and not taking them into account.”

Responding to questions about assessment following his statement to the House on Monday the education minister said it was far too early to determine what the impact will be on students.

“We will have a much better feel for it when we enter school, and we have those 20 days when we will be examining the impact that being out of school has had, but right now no one would be foolhardy enough to make a projection,” Samuda stated.

He pointed out also that teachers and students alike have been struggling with the purchasing of data. “The teachers are bawling out that they cannot afford the data and that is a cry that should not be ignored…” he said. According to Minister Samuda, a funding programme is being activated to assist teachers with data for virtual learning.

The JTA president, meanwhile, suggested that with the announcement that placement for students will be predicated on grades already earned, and parents trying to save every penny, there could be a further dip in the number of students accessing virtual learning.

“The grade six children now will not see a need to continue, so we have to understand that dynamic, as well. If I am a parent and I can save $1,000 per week, because my child is going to go to high school now, why should I be logging on to spend when I could use it to buy some sugar or salt? So those numbers that were mentioned by Minister Samuda will fall even more because that grade six cohort may not be interested anymore to log on,” he said.

Speid said, too, that remedial work for the students who fall behind will be difficult post-COVID-19, as, prior to this crisis there had been a serious brain drain in the teaching fraternity, which means that there are fewer specialist teachers available for remedial services.

“Teacher migration was rampant and we have very few specialists in Jamaica at this time to treat with that kind of remediation, so to bring them up to par is going to be a challenge because we don’t have the systems in place in high schools, plus we don’t have enough of the specialist teachers who will be required to deal with this kind of need that is going to be presented to us,” the JTA president said.

At the same time, Speid said the JTA is comfortable with the methodology that is being applied for exit examinations, although there will always be complaints due to the inequality in the education system.

“I think it is a fair process, because when you gauge that against where we are coming from when we had Common Entrance, a one-shot exam, and now you’re having scores from grade four, grade five and six, then it’s a fairer position that you will be placed in for transition to high school,” he explained, pointing out also that there could be no sitting of exams now, given the issues of social distancing and other factors.

Bunting, at the same time, said the gap in classroom contact time will take years to be compensated for, and he again called for a task force to be convened to determine the long-term impact and plan ahead for any similar situation in the future. This, he said, should include training teachers whom he said are now ill-prepared to effectively deliver online teaching to students.

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