Anthony Garcia-new-use-headshot

Education Minister Anthony Garcia

THE delivery of education during the period of school closure has been fraught with challenges and teaching cannot simply resume as normal when schools reopen in September.

From the lack of accountability of teachers to the lack of access to the Internet and devices for many pupils, the process has simply not been effective.

This according to Vickram Ramlal, adviser to the Presbyterian Primary Schools Board.

Ramlal was participating in a Joint Select Committee meeting discussing the Ministry of Education’s strategies for ensuring continuity in the delivery of education amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Education has not been very effective during this period,” Ramlal observed.

He said many teachers had been using WhatsApp to communicate with pupils and parents, but this presented certain limitations, especially for pupils with special needs.

“There is no systematic programmes being used. Our teachers were doing different things. Some were doing enrichment and remedial exercises, some were doing curriculum. The one area where people really tried to stick with the curriculum and do work was the SEA (Secondary Entrance Assessment) classes. But education is just not effective at this time.”

No way to connect

Additionally, he said the number of pupils without access to Internet and devices was far greater than the Ministry of Education’s estimate.

The ministry has estimated close to 70,000 pupils do not have access to the Internet and devices, but Ramlal said he believes the figure is closer to 90,000.

“We had a lot of issues concerning Internet connectivity for both students and teachers, lack of devices for students and teachers, and even many of our teachers lack the technological skills to effectively do online teaching,” he said.

Further, Ramlal said many families have been struggling to meet their basic needs and are unable to focus on education at this time.

“A lot of students didn’t get the food support and assistance they expected. So a lot of our energies from our principals and teachers was expended on trying to provide the basics for our students.”

With regard to teachers, Ramlal said there has been limited accountability for the work being done.

He said this was because of a statement made by the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA).

“When TTUTA indicated in their work-from-home policy that the work during this period is voluntary, a lot of teachers then took a different approach and accountability became an issue. “They were saying if they are working voluntarily, then there is no need to really account, and that created some problems.”

Evaluation for children

As a result of all the challenges, Ramlal said an evaluation of pupils will be needed before regular teaching resumes in September.

“We foresee that when schools reopen in September, our teachers and principals will have to do some diagnostic work to see where the students are.”

Lisa Ghany, board member of the Down Syndrome Family Network, said the Covid-19 school closure has showed the inequalities in society regarding children with disabilities and intellectual disabilities.

She said these children are alrea­dy at a disadvantage, but even more so now without face-to-face teaching.

Dr Radica Mahase, head of Support Autism Trinidad and Tobago (SATT), expressed similar sentiments, saying based on feedback from parents, most of the autistic children in public schools have stopped doing work since schools have closed.

She said this was because they could not navigate the online platforms.

Some parents, because of their own educational background, were not able to sit and do the work with their children, she noted.

“They have literally stopped learning,” she said. “This whole situation has shown up the inequalities in special needs education.”

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