The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union says it is concerned that the country could lose a generation of students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have had minimal face-to-face instructional time since the COVID-19 pandemic last March.
And while there is online teaching, there are questions about its effectiveness, especially among younger students.
At a union press conference last Friday, iWitness News noted that a student who is turning 7 this year, by the end of the school year, will have been in the primary school system for two academic years.
However, that student will have had just a few months of in-class education.
“The level of reading is highly likely to be below what it should be — numeracy, social skills and all of that,” iWitness News pointed out and asked whether the union was concerned about this, and, if so, what suggestions it had.
“Yes, we are concerned and we have expressed that concern and we have reaffirmed that concern as a union,” union president, Oswald Robinson said.
“That’s why we have said that there are 90% of the primary school students who do not have a compatible device.”
Robinson said that the government promised last year to purchase 30,000 tablet computers — one for each of the nation’s students — but this is yet to materialise fully.
“… the fact that we are concerned, we said train our teachers, begin early. We are waiting until now teachers are actually doing teaching to helter-skelter try to get some of the training done,” he said.
Robinson said that the training of teachers to deliver lessons online should have been done during the vacation period, when teachers had more time.
“It is difficult now to have to be trying to get the technology right and then you’re doing so many hours of online teaching plus the preparation and then you have to go another couple hours after you are finished that to do training.
“So we are concerned and that is why we say do the training early, make available the devices to the students and let us continue to monitor and make changes here and there.”
He said that the nation has to be developmental and have “a systems approach, not a piecemeal fashion.
“We must look at the whole picture; the holistic approach is even better.”
He said that the union is concerned, hence its statement about teachers being unable to reach, online, a significant number of the primary school students.
“… and that’s the foundation, teachers cannot reach them. But yet, we are asking our teachers to continue to teach. If you have a class of 30 teachers and you are only seeing 10 every day when you go to teach, there are another 20 out there you can’t reach. Nobody knows what is happening.”
Robinson said this is why the union had been saying that the first set of tablets, which arrived in the country last November, should have been given to the primary school students.
“You give it to the secondary school and the majority of the secondary school students would have some kind of device already, especially those young adults.
“They would have a cell phone, you will see them going to school and the school which wouldn’t accept them, you will see them hiding them somewhere, giving somebody to hold until and so on and so forth.”
The union leader said that teachers are heartbroken because of their inability to reach their students, especially those from low socio-economic backgrounds.
“You know, sometimes, it’s difficult even to get them to come to school because of quite a number of reasons and they are even more disadvantaged,” he said.
He said that early in the pandemic, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, in a report, made a projection about the number of children who the pandemic would affect negatively.
“If you are ‘ketching your neck’ in face-to-face class, physical normal school, to get to some of the students and now it’s virtual, the problem has become more compounded.
“The authorities are saying, ‘Oh, yes, we are doing training with the teachers, online teaching is going on, teachers don’t need a first degree to do the virtual classroom.’ That may be so, but how many of the children are [they] reaching out there?
“I have seen online classes going on where teachers are waiting for children to sign in and then you would see the responses, please sign in this, please sign in that, and by the time that finish, the lesson ends.” Robinson said.
“So, your question is quite appropriate, relevant, and actually hits the hammer right on the head.”
When asked what can be done, he said:
“We have to get the devices to the children — which are compatible [with online education].”