Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, says he has been closely tracking the situation of children being out of school due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
He noted that the absence of in-person learning has had a “terrible impact on our learning as a nation. Our children have truly been deprived and are, indeed, I would say, way behind in their curriculum. Some schools are doing fine, but generally, it would be the case that we now have a deficit for which we have to catch up”.
“It is a difficult time; there is no question that we have to maintain the protocols and still be very cautious about reopening schools, but I am clear in my mind that we will have to reopen our schools. We just have to figure out how to do it to protect the health and safety of our children,” he said.
The Prime Minister was addressing a ceremony for the distribution of 45 devices under the Tablets in Schools programme, at the Drews Avenue Primary and Infant School in St. Andrew on Wednesday (November 4).
The Government, through e-Learning Jamaica (e-LJam), began the issuing of 40,000 tablets to students on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) in October. They are targeted at pupils in grades four to six and are expected to support learning in a virtual environment.
Mr. Holness charged the responsible entities to ensure that the tablets meet the computing and durability requirements and can be integrated into the teaching and learning practices in the island.
“We have to be very strategic in how we provide these devices. Yes, we have had to be moving very quickly to have the devices in hand, but I want us to take some time to thoroughly research the specifications… in order to fill the device and technology gaps that we have,” he said.
He said that the information regarding device specification should be widely available, so that parents who will be acquiring instruments for their children independently can make informed purchases.
He noted that while the Government continues to put together a comprehensive return to classroom strategy, “that will never obviate the need for every child having a device to access the Internet”.
“The devices that we are purchasing now must be able to last our students for more than six months, they must have the computing capacity and durability to be meaningful to our students and teachers… . We must have a device that is durable enough to last us at least two years,” the Prime Minister said.
Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Hon. Fayval Williams, in her address at the handover ceremony, said that the Government is committed to providing students with devices that will enable access while creating a more robust technology infrastructure.
“This is just the beginning of technology in our schools, and even as we return on a phased basis to face-to-face in classrooms, technology will continue to be a part of the education sector going forward. It will be in our classrooms, it will be in the hands of our students to enable the acceleration of learning and to enrich what they are learning in schools,” she said.
In his remarks, Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Hon. Daryl Vaz, urged the recipients to take care of the devices.
“These are tools to be used for your educational advancement and knowledge acquisition so that you can achieve your educational goals,” he said.
Chairman of Drews Avenue Primary and Infant School, Naomi Francis, in expressing gratitude for the devices, said they will enable the students to log on to zero-rated websites to access critical educational material.
“These are very sturdy tablets and some of the material from the Ministry is already loaded on it for the grade four and Primary Exit Profile (PEP) curriculum,” she noted.
Ms. Francis lauded the teachers at the institution, noting that they have been implementing innovative strategies during the period of the pandemic to ensure that learning continues.