Glitches dampen start of classes in Manchester, St Elizabeth

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — As expected, lack of reliable Internet access and limited access to devices hindered the start of classes virtually for some schools in two south-central parishes, as administrators struggled to reach students via online learning platforms.

For George Lewis, principal of Roger Clarke High in Balaclava, St Elizabeth, the upside was that on the first day of school, studies went well for those who were able to go online.

“We got off to a smooth start, not all our students online as we expected, but for those who came online we engaged them. We are using different learning platforms namely, Google Classroom and WhatsApp groups. However, the challenge is the number of students we have online,” Lewis told the Jamaica Observer by telephone on Monday.

“In terms of our total cohort [of 550 students], we did not have half of them online and that is and remains our challenge,” he added.

He pointed out that parents with only one device are struggling to have all their children access classes simultaneously.

“When we had our general devotion, we had a parent pointing out the challenge she has, [in that] she has three children [but] one device. Two of the children are coming to my school [Roger Clarke High] and the other [going] to another school. How is the device going to be shared?” he asked.

Lewis commended the Ministry of Education for its efforts, but reiterated challenges faced by parents.

“…We are appreciative of the fact that the ministry is now offering Google Classroom free of cost once the student uses the designated e-mail address that is provided by the ministry, but notwithstanding this, the challenges our parents are facing are real,” he said.

Lewis said, too, that the school is working towards distributing printed material to students without Internet access.

Principal of Christiana High School, Leecent Wallace, said he is hopeful that Internet glitches will be resolved quickly.

“We are having some hiccups, but there are other platforms that the teachers have been utilising, such as WhatsApp, in getting the students mobilised. We also have a school management system that we have been using prior to the G Suite, so that has been working,” he said.

Principal of Belair High, Lawrence Rowe, reported that despite technical issues, more than 70 per cent of his students accessed online engagement on Monday.

“Things are going on well so far. Most of my students are online. We [had] just a little bit of a glitch with the ministry’s learning management system, but we are currently working on it.

“We had a general assembly and I had over 500 participants. My school population is just over 800,” he added.

Rowe disclosed that sixth-form students will start their classes today.

At the primary level, two St Elizabeth schools — Holland Primary and Balaclava Primary — have been severely impacted by poor Internet access.

“All the teachers engaged all the classes… Basically engaged via WhatsApp with psychosocial and orientation sessions being done,” said principal of the Holland Primary Simone Doctor.

She said that some parents were engaged via Zoom and that teaching is to commence next week.

Principal of Balaclava Primary Nichol Jackson said teachers are still using platforms other than the ministry’s G Suite.

“We are still not fully on the ministry’s Google platform, but our teachers would have set up their own Google Classroom that they would have been sensitising the students with, so, as it is now, we are still mainly using WhatsApp until we can fully sort out the students’ e-mail addresses to use the ministry’s Google Suite,” Jackson said.

— Kasey Williams

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