Grade six students at the Little Bay Primary and Infant School in Westmoreland began Primary Exit Profile (PEP) preparations on Monday (September 14) with virtual classes facilitated under the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information’s Internet in schools programme.
The initiative, which involves partnership with ReadyTV through its ReadyNet satellite Internet service, will equip an initial 101 pilot rural schools with Internet access in time for the official start of classes on October 5.
Principal of Little Bay Primary, Keron King, tells JIS News that he is happy for the service, which will ensure that children can continue their education, at a time when there has been disruption in traditional classroom learning due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
He notes that in addition to facilitating teacher-student interaction outside of the classroom, it creates a digital space for children to work and connect “given the fact that we are living in a global village.”
The satellite Internet provided under ReadyNet also services nearby communities, where students reside.
Mr. King says that up to 200 persons at a time can utilise the Internet. “We are using virtual platforms such as EduFocal as well as Google Classroom,” Mr. King says, noting that students can connect with their smartphone or other device.
Students on the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH), as well as teachers, will receive tablets in short order to facilitate access to the online classes.
The Principal commends the Education Ministry for the support it continues to give the school, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In preparation for online learning, teachers across the island have been trained in virtual classroom delivery, while principals have benefited from a virtual instructional leadership course through the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL), enabling them to continue to lead remotely.
Mr. King informs that a guidance counsellor has been assigned to the school to give psychosocial support to students and “we have been working with a number of stakeholders to ensure that when school reopens, students are supported emotionally, educationally and mentally.”
Chief Executive Officer of ReadyTV, Chris Dehring, tells JIS News that the partnership with the Education Ministry is “historic, as this is the first time that satellite Internet is being delivered anywhere in the region”.
He notes that the technology has been used to deliver service to remote and rural communities and “we are pleased to be able to deliver to Little Bay and principals like Mr. King, who has worked tirelessly to deliver high quality classes online.”
“Little Bay is one of the projects that we are very excited about because it is a community and a school, which has been without Internet for a while. They have a wonderful computer lab yet they do not have the consistency of broadband (Internet),” he notes.
Mr. Dehring tells JIS News that work is underway to bring the other pilot institutions online by October 5. He notes that Bull Bay Primary in St. Thomas has already benefited under the programme.
For her part, President of the school’s parent-teacher association (PTA) and a resident of the Little Bay community, Kaedia Ellis Johnson, tells JIS News that the provision of satellite Internet at the school is “a good move because it benefits a lot of students and parents, who did not have access to the Internet.”
“Everyone is now benefiting from it and I think it helps to stop a big gap. I think it is a good thing for the community and everyone is excited,” she adds.
Meanwhile, Little Bay Primary is providing support for families facing financial challenges due to COVID-19.
The school garden has been expanded to boost the breakfast programme, from which some 80 per cent of the students benefit.
“This is to assist students, who are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their parents may be unemployed and they may not be on PATH. We are now doing chicken rearing. We have eggs, we have all these things happening at the school to mitigate the (economic) effects causes by COVID-19,” Mr. King tells JIS News.
The school also plans to set up a farmers’ market with produce from the garden, so that the school can supply businesses and homes in surrounding communities.
Additionally, the Principal informs that work is underway to install a tank to facilitate water harvesting, which will benefit the school as well as the wider Little Bay community. The multimillion-dollar project, Mr. King tells JIS News, is being spearheaded by Rural Water Supply Limited.
In reflecting on the last school year, the Principal tells JIS News that despite the fact that classes were cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the students performed well in PEP.
He says that the top three performers, who were placed at traditional high schools in the parish, were awarded a combined total of over $600,000 in scholarships by the Uzazi Foundation, which is located in Canada.
Mr. King says that the Rockhouse Foundation, which is based in the parish, has been providing care packages to parents, students, staff and members of the Little Bay community on a fortnightly basis.