Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday says students’ online activities during COVID-19 pandemic must relate to the curriculum.
“I want the children to be able to continue their education. We should be at a point now with e-learning that at least we can deliver instructions; not just kill time, not just telling the children to get a YouTube video and learn how to do multiplications and fractions,” Friday said on NICE Radio on Monday.
“We have to relate whatever we are doing to the curriculum so that we don’t fall too far behind,” he said on his weekly appearance on his New Democratic Party’s daily radio show.
Schools in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have been out since Easter and Form 5 and Grade 6 students, along with others taking school-leaving examinations are scheduled to return to the classroom next Monday.
In the meantime the Ministry of Education has been encouraging teachers to deliver instruction online.
There is, however, no consensus on the content to be delivered or even the platform to be used, even as some parents have complained about not having a suitable device with to access the content, as well as internet supply.
The government has said it will purchase a tablet computer for each of the nation’s students.
Friday said he thinks that the pandemic is an opportunity for the government “to seriously consider where we are with respect to e-learning and to ensure that in our school system we leap forward.
“It gives us an opportunity to say basically — don’t just provide the machines, the hardware to the students and say in the classroom you can use it as a calculator, you can Google stuff, etc. but how you can deliver the curriculum that the ministry of Education had set. Not just stuff that you are refreshing.”
Friday said he and his opposition colleagues had discussed the situation Monday.
“… and one of the things that was universally raised was the lack of clarity coming from the Ministry of Education with respect to its leadership.
“This is a ministry that can have very clear policies as to how we go forward. They can say schools are closed now, this is how we are going to manage when they are closed.”
He said SVG was supposed to be in the era of e-learning.
“You have had 10 years of computers in the schools under this government but it seems that they have just been used as devices that are disconnected from the process of learning because now we are in a situation where we would be able to rely on that experience; it seems to me that we are not ready to do so.
“There has been no clarity, no clear position or statement or decision on the part of the Ministry of Education as to, for example, which platforms are the schools going to be using to do their teaching, their e-learning.
“There are persons who have raised a number of different platforms, Microsoft teams, Google classroom, others have said they have been using the other communication apps, such as WhatsApp and Zoom and Skype — but there must be some direction from the ministry.”
Friday said that it is not known for how long e-learning would be required.
“There are so many challenges relating to that and we are so far behind with respect to that.”
He said that some of the issues are devices, easy access to the internet in homes or elsewhere.
“… then they can go ahead and do the teaching online and continue to teach almost as if they are in the classroom,” Friday said.
“That is being doing in some schools and in some classrooms in some schools; but it is a very uneven record with respect to that.
“Some schools are managing to do it, it is tough, it is a lot of work to get up to speed but it’s possible to do and so the ministry has to say, ‘Listen guys, we are going to be using this platform and we are going to provide some in-house training for those persons from the schools that you designate as the teacher of the teachers and they can come and be tech support for the teachers in the schools and get them ready,” the opposition leader said.
And as some students prepare to return to school next week, Friday mentioned issues of transportation, enough space to ensure there is physical distancing among students and making sure that the hygiene practices are properly set out and followed.
“These are not things that are optional. They are mandatory because without them, we run a risk that is unacceptable in any society, given the havoc that we have seen this COVID-19 create all around the world,” he said.