Oct 24, 2020 Letters
This expression of concern was penned on October 14th after discussion among a small group of parents and chaperones who are grappling with the steep learning curve occasioned by COVID-19 on the formal education scenario. We learnt today (October 22) that the Honorable Minister of Education, Ms. Priya Manickchand has since spoken to some of the points raised herein. Nonetheless, we still ask your kindness to publish this attempt highlight pertinent issues and responses from the relevant authorities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted everyone into an education culture shock, particularly parents and guardians who have suddenly become academic chaperones to children’s education. This new reality has brought to the fore a number of issues that needs to be comprehensively addressed, hence this appeal for a continual dialogue between parents and educators.
Concern #1 – The GTT Wi-Fi fiasco:
We are very concerned about the disappointing service being provided by GTT. Those of us living in areas served only by GTT can testify to frequent interruptions and low bandwidth. This poor internet feed hinders students because the frequent interruption (at both ends) translates to students missing segments of their classes. This erratic internet service is undermining the future of our children. To add salt to the wound, GTT forces customers to endure eight working days of disorienting inconvenience before faults are investigated or rectified. GTT has never reduced its charges even when we, customers, get less than half the agreed service. We therefore appeal to the Ministry of Education, The Guyana Teachers’ Union, and all other relevant stakeholders to lobby GTT for a reduction in the cost of internet and an increase in bandwidth so our children can access education. Many of us (parents) are struggling to put food on the table and at the same time find the money to put data into phones to grab a few hours of education for our children. The present internet rates are unaffordable to those of us living below the poverty line.
Concern #2 – Financial assistance for poor parents
Another concern is the expectations and relationship between teachers and parents. As parents we are ever thankful for the support and initiative undertaken by schools and the Ministry of Education. However there is a burning need for stakeholders to discuss the issues encountered by the new “school-at-home” phenomenon. We air some of our concerns below(and there many more). When and how will lower/lowest income single parent families get financial assistance to purchase computers (phones are helpful but inadequate) and pay for internet services? Teachers expect a parental presence to chaperone students while classes are in session – what protocols can be worked out to make this feasible in cases where parents must go out to work and no adult is at home to assist? Is there room in the Ministry of Education to discuss these niggling problems with frustrated parents and endangered young people? The final point on teacher/parent/MOE relations is the timeliness of information. Too many last minute request and advice is being imposed on parents. We need to know well in advance what is required, given that many of us are on reduced income or simply no income. Finally we need to brainstorm how (in these covid times) we can ensure that children whose parents have to be at work do not drop through the cracks. Parents are also concerned about the security issues present with more unsupervised children on the internet. There is urgent need for dialogue (from the national to neighbourhood sphere) on cyber-bullying, stalking, probing porn sites and protecting children from other internet predators. There is also need to enforce for a code of conduct for persons using the systems.
Concern # 3 – Standardize the platform and equipment:
We congratulate teachers who have shown initiative and kindness (even at their personal expense) to students by using readily available platforms like Zoom and WhatsApp. However as more students are added and activity picks up, tools like WhatsApp can become cumbersome. To ensure that study materials and assignments are accurately communicated, documented; that timetables are accessible in advance and that grades are properly archived, there is a burning need to standardize the platform. While not experts on the matter, we have found Google suite to be very useful and a well-integrated platform with its G-mail, Google classroom, Google calendar, Google meet, Google Drive and Google docs seamlessly integrated. Reports floating around tell of students struggling to cope with the variation of tools being used by different teachers in the same school. The equipment also needs to be standardized as much as possible. Experience has shown that netbooks are not a good substitute for laptops and that in terms of value for money desktops are much better. We wish to recommend that for the primary and nursery classes the Ministry of Education encourage the use of desktops for homes as these are robust, comparatively cheaper and easier to repair when compared to the pricy (touted as cheap) laptops. Laptops are better suited to upper secondary and tertiary students. There is also a need to ensure that all (every single sole) teacher is fully equipped with a computer, too many are relying on cell phones which do not have the required range and versatility to teach and communicate effectively. There is also need for a public health assessment of the impact that the changes in education delivery will have on the relevant stakeholders.
Concern #4 Involve parents (feedback)
We may have missed the opportunities but we have not seen or heard of significant event/action to involve parents at the community level to contribute to the discussion on the new online education phenomenon. I appeal to the MOE, The GTU, The Regional Councils, PTA’s and other stakeholders to initiate discussion fora across Guyana to ferret out the issues that can ( and in some cases have already begun to) torpedo the new learning process. Let us involve every youth and church organizations, let us call on the business community and other relevant social entities to find ways to rescue those children falling between the cracks and inspire those who are pressing on. Let us plan and hold meeting in every neighbourhood. Not a child should be left in the cold.
Concern # 5 Innovation and Accountability:
Finally, parents, caregivers and education providers/deliverers must recognize that the traditional process needs rewiring. The exam oriented time constrained protocols need revisiting to deal with this learning shift. The future of the nation – a stable and dependable society – is at stake. Let us join hands and hearts and thwart the dissonance brought in by Covid-19. Bearing in mind that the student/pupil is not in the physical presence of a teacher and that some parents may have to re-familiarize themselves with subject matters, we recommend that the curriculum be re-timed to give a bit more space for the paced students (and parents) to grasp and master concepts.
Robust policing of the education system is needed as there are reports of teacher’s not delivering the required quantity and quality of tutoring. Greater use should be made of the Learning Channel to deliver live lessons and less of the videos that while being educational does not help those children that have questions and are not as visually aligned. The direct stakeholders of the Education system needs to insist that all students are logged (present Miss/Sir) and monitored (remain in class) throughout the school day. Teachers should report to parents as frequent as possible those students who (jack) play truant.
It is our hope that this appeal would reach the hearts and heads of our education leaders and all relevant stakeholder and that we can join hearts and hands, brainstorm, encourage, motivate and reinforce the education service (system) for the benefit of everyone.
God bless every dedicated and altruistic teacher, parent and official.
Michael O.S. Kendall Snr
Richard A. James
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