Madam Speaker,

It is my pleasure to update this Honourable House on the plans and programmes that have been put in place by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information for the official start of the new school year on October 5.

As we are all aware, Madam Speaker, Jamaica has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The education sector, in particular, has been hard hit. Face-to-face schooling has been disrupted. Schools have been closed for an extended period and there is an urgent need for solutions that will allow our children to continue receiving quality formal education amidst the continuing pandemic.

Since assuming office on September 14, I have had a series of meetings with a wide cross-section of stakeholders representing, students, parents, teachers, principals, administrators, the book publishing and retail industry and internet service providers among others.

Arising out of those meetings and in consultations with the officers at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, we have endeavoured to arrive at a place to allow for the official start of the new school year come next Monday.

The most recent advisories from the Ministry of Health and Wellness regarding the community spread do not support face-to-face teaching and learning. Additionally, major stakeholders such as the JTA, Principals Association and the National Parent Teachers Association have raised objections to face-to-face teaching and learning at this time. As such we will commence classes with students remaining at home and utilizing any or all of the three approaches to receive their lessons:

1. The first approach is Online, in which students remain at home and access lessons via the Learning Management System (LMS). In this approach, teachers and students will be in a virtual classroom environment. The teachers will be able to teach online and the lessons will be recorded for students to access at their convenience as many times as they would like in order to improve the mastery of subject matter.

To access lessons online, the students will need to have a device (laptop, tablet or smart phone) and internet connectivity. The students and teachers will not need to have a data plan to access the Google Suite Learning Management System or G-Suite for Education. Students and teachers are being provided with email addresses which they will use to sign on to the online classroom. Of course for security, they will create their personal passwords. To-date, 15,466 teachers and 190,352 students already signed on and are using the system. This figure represents 32% of students across early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary, public and private institutions. We continue to work with the ECC to bring onboard the Early Childhood practitioners.

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