Lisa Morris-Julian Minister in the Ministry of Education  (centre) Nyan Gadsby-Dolly Minister of Education and Naima Hosein

The Ministry of Education is pleading with Corporate Trinidad for assistance as the new school term signals a pivot to digital learning.

As COVID-19 has indefinitely halted face to face learning, it was announced via a press conference on Friday that the first semester of the upcoming academic year will begin on September 1 and end on December 11. However, all in house classes will be moved to online platforms, with the exception of students who do not have devices or internet connections.

According to Minister of Education Dr, Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, these students will instead be required to complete printed packets prepared by teachers on a weekly basis. She stated that while schools will not operate in person in the next semester, buildings will remain open to provide resources to teachers. Whether or not teachers are to report to respective schools on September 1, she said, would be left up to principals.

To facilitate a hybrid curriculum, she said, teachers are required to receive training for both online teaching and the preparation of packages for students. When asked about the effective delivery of teaching to students who do not have access to digital services and will depend on the printed “packages,” she said that she expects teachers to communicate with students through other mediums such as Whatsapp or over the phone. She said that parents should be involved in looking at the feedback of student’s work.

“There will be two categories of students. One, students who are available on the online environment and two students who are not available on the online environment. Teachers may be faced with a mix of both types of students in their classrooms. For those who are available on the online environment it is expected that teachers will utilize the Ministry’s curriculum guidelines for online learning which will be provided for them which will contain useful resources and links and of course the Ministry’s SLMS system which is the online learning platform. “

“However those students who are not available online and that could be that they don’t have devices or connectivity, then teachers are expected to prepare printed packets for these students so that they can access the education that they so desperately need,” she said

She noted that approximately 65,000 students do not have access to devices or resources to engage in online learning. She said that the Government was considering providing some devices to students in need. This consideration she said would be brough to Cabinet next week.

However, she appealed to the business community in the country to provide access to these students. The appeal was made as the “Adopt a school initiative,” under which the Ministry will write to various entities for aid. She said that interest has been shown by the Telecommunications Authority and TTEC to provide some devices.

“Of course the Government will be considering the provision of some devices to students but we are also reaching out to the business community, to chambers of industry, to alumni associations and we are asking Corporate Trinidad and Tobago to become involved in this effort. I will tell you that we have already had outreaches from TATT and TTEC to be able to supply some schools with devices, we understand that not every student may be able to avail themselves of one and that is why we have planned in the outreach for schools term that we will use the printed material, use the TV, radio and social media on the Ministry's platform so that these students can at least access some information,”

“We don’t want them to be left behind. Of course, in the circumstances the online environment may be the richest replacement for face to face. I would like to appeal at this time to Corporate Trinidad and Tobago. There is a need for devices, there is a need for connectivity. We are in discussions with TATT, Bmobile and Digicel to see how many students can be assisted. We will be rolling out that initiative in the coming week, we will be writing to the bodies and asking them to donate what they can to the schools so that as many children as possible will be able to benefit from the online environment in these circumstances. We are all in this together, all of us have to contribute to ensure that children get the best future that is possible,” said Dr Gadbsy-Dolly.

She said that final exams for this semester will not occur and practical assessments and SBA’s are postponed until semester two. She said that Trinidad and Tobago has made a recommendation to the Caribbean Examinations council in the resumption of the practical component of assessments.

Additionally, she stated that Ministry was considering reducing the SEA curriculum. She said that form one students should begin schooling in the middle of October and results dispersed on October 8.

“Already we are considering reducing or narrowing the curriculum for SEA, not necessarily the format of the exam that students have become accustomed to but reducing the number of topics that will be examined in recognition of the fact that we have had some disruption in the school year before 2021 and 2022. Representation has been made from different stakeholders to have SEA take place later in the year for this year and the final decision will be taken on that as well.”

“SEA results are expected on October the 8 and so we will expect that at this time parents would step in. We are asking parents to just let them lie fallow, allow them to engage themselves in some of the material that will be available s that they will keep their skills up and when they get into that environment for form one, down to the middle of October or so, they would not be left too far behind the system. But of course, we know they came through a very stressful time to and they have to be allowed some time to relax,” she said.

She added that the School feeding program will be amended to allow for at home delivery to students. Daily, 500 lunches will be dropped to MP offices in each constituency. Online counselling will also be made available.

“Now in a format where 500 lunches per day will be delivered to the MP offices in communities and the MP offices will be expected to Liaise with village councils in their communities, religious organizations, we expect that they will liaise with NGO’s in the community who are active to get the lunches of the children who really need it. That will be rolled out through the MP offices again as partners in enduring that children who really need this access it,” she said.