Acknowledging that there are significant challenges in the education system today due to the effects of Covid-19, Prime Minister Andrew Holness says many of our students are not learning at the level, pace and stage at which they would be, were they in the usual face to face learning modality.
He says the Government is concerned that this cohort of grade 6 students would be behind as they transition to grade 7 but that the Government is not going to allow that to affect the remainder of their education cycle. “Whatever we have to do,” he said “to catch up on what you (students) have lost and to ensure that you (students) have the foundation skills to advance to higher learning, the Government is committed to ensuring that this is done.”
The Prime Minister made the commitment as he addressed a gathering of students and parents at the Calabar Infant, Primary and Junior High School in Central Kingston yesterday (Friday, May 14, 2021), during a tablet distribution ceremony. He said, “I want to give you that assurance as children and I want to give that assurance to your parents. It is something that is near and dear to my heart and I am going to ensure that you are not adversely affected because of the measures that we have had to put in place to control the pandemic.”
Mr. Holness also emphasized that the Government is developing a new framework for broadband internet access across the length and breadth of Jamaica to ensure that every Jamaican household can access broadband internet whether through wired service or wireless service. He says the planning is far advanced and the programme itself should be at an advanced stage of completion within two years.
The Prime Minister in speaking directly to the students, said that the new world in which they will be living is a digital one which requires a highway to carry information. That highway he says is the internet and the devices are the vehicles. He says the Government will ensure that every Jamaican has that access through the provision of internet straight to their homes.
In the short term the Prime Minister said, with the current internet penetration, the other challenge is to ensure children have the devices to get onto the digital highway. He says current estimation indicate that about 70 percent of learners have internet access, but at varying speed. He acknowledged that access and internet speed will impact how well students do. This, he says, is why the Government must ensure that irrespective of socio-economic status, every student can access the internet. He stressed the urgency of the Government to place a device in every household, and in the hands of every child who cannot afford one.
Prime Minister Holness stated that it is also estimated that about 70 percent of learners have some access to some form of device, even if it is their parents’ phones while 30 percent would have no access at all. He says the Government is focused on getting to the 30 percent with no access. The Prime Minister noted that in order to reduce this deficit, over 200,000 devices would need to be distributed. Of this amount Mr. Holness said the Government has distributed or is in the process of procuring 123,000 devices. He says there is an estimated 500,000 learners in the system on which the Government wishes to focus: the early childhood, the primary and the high school levels. He says the Government is procuring 15,000 laptops for students between grades 10 and 13. An additional 16,000 tablets is being procured for students between grades 7 and 9. Meanwhile the Prime Minister said 12,000 households have redeemed vouchers under the Own Your Own Device programme.
The Prime Minister commended civil society and the diaspora particularly the Consular General of Jamaica to New York who mobilized diaspora support for the success of the One Tablet or Computer Per Child programme which has pooled 16,000 tablets and 785 laptops.
Prime Minister Holness also drew attention to the recent announcement by Finance Minister Nigel Clarke that Members of Parliament will be provided with resources to acquire 100 devices each, for their constituencies.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister noted that through his own Positive Jamaica Foundation he has been able to receive support for the purchase of a 1,000 devices which he has been distributing. He is encouraging every Jamaican where they can, to help a child to own a device.
The Prime Minister handed over tablets and other devices to about 40 students of the Calabar Infant, Primary and Junior High. The school was also gifted, a printer which was made possible through Printware Online.