The Ministry of Education was “caught unprepared” to deliver lessons virtually, says Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday.
Classes have been suspended for over a month as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Friday says he believes that classes for the rest of the school year would have to be taught online.
The opposition leader said that teachers want to be able to continue the instructions, especially those who are preparing students for major examinations.
“They want to be able to reach the students and so they have gone ahead of the ministry,” Friday said.
He said the response of the ministry has been “woefully lacking”.
“Quite frankly, in the Ministry of Education, they have been caught unprepared for this and everywhere, anybody could have seen that,” the opposition leader said.
Friday said that when he called for the closure of schools two weeks ahead of the Easter break, the government resisted before deciding to close one week early.
“We could have seen that nothing was going to change between then and two weeks from then to the 14th of April to reopen. So it’s been extended further and my guess –not my guess, my opinion, my view based on the circumstances — is that the rest of the school term, the school year, is probably going to be taught online from home.”
He further noted the impact of the on-going drought.
“You can’t … advise to wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands, and then saying conserve the water, conserve the water, close the pipe. It’s just doesn’t work that way.”
Friday said that the Ministry of Education has to be looking at the long haul.
“… and one of the things I’ve seen is that the various teachers, it seems like it’s up to the individual teacher, not just the school but the teacher to decide how he or she is going to continue to teach, what platform they use.”
Friday said teachers are using different platforms, such as Microsoft, Google, Zoom.
“The idea, the objective has to be to find the most effective way, one that you’re comfortable with, and to be able to instruct the students.”
He, however, said that to deliver instruction online, three things are needed.
“One, you must have the hardware, all of the students must have access to laptops, or tablets so that they can interact,” he said, noting that Parliament had allocated EC$4 million of the supplementary budget for the purchase of devices for students.
Friday also noted that students must have access to the internet.
“Internet is … an essential thing that you can’t function in a modern society without it, but certainly now, in this particular time,” Friday said.
“You can’t have instruction going on in the school and those who don’t have internet are left behind, because that would be terribly unfair. It would be very disruptive. And it’s contrary to the professed principles of this government about education.”
He noted that the National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission is providing the internet to 680 homes at the cost of EC$10 per month.
This programme has to be accelerated.
Friday said the third element is the teachers.
“I know that a lot of teachers who are … now learning things for the first time because they so desperately want to be able to reach their students.
“And so it’s in a way this crisis has kick started, it has shown us the potential for online teaching, eLearning, so to speak, which we have talked about in this country for the last 10, 12 years since they’ve been distributing computers.
“And but it was just essentially a device with no connection to the actual teaching of the students. Now, this is focusing on the teaching, because you’re starting out with a need to reach a student.
“And the question of the device is just a tool to get there. And so, this is something that I welcome and it will I think it will stand us in good stead even after the worst of this crisis is passed,” Friday said.