By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Archbishop Jason Gordon and the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) met online with Education Minister Anthony Garcia and officials of the ministry last Tuesday on continued tuition for RC school pupils during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The ministry accepted an offer from the CEBM to collaborate on the use of television programming, online materials to contribute to the Ministry’s Learning Management System (LMS), and teacher training. The CEBM will facilitate assistance from the Commonwealth of Learning for open schooling.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on March 13 asked for all learning institutions to be closed as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. The Secondary Entrance Assessment that was carded for April 2 and the May-June Caribbean Proficiency Examination and Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate have been postponed.
The second term was expected to resume tomorrow, April 20 but at a virtual media briefing last Tuesday, Garcia said the situation was “fluid” and it was not likely the term will reopen before September.
The CEBM has collected data from more than 50 schools as it plans for continued tuition at the 118 RC schools with some 1,800 teachers and 23,250 pupils. Less than 20 per cent of all primary school children (about 125,000 at 477 public primary schools) attend RC schools.
Chief Executive Officer CEBM Sharon Mangroo, responding to questions sent via email told Catholic News, “there are volunteer teams of teachers engaged in developing content for print, TV and online media as well as planning for initial training of teachers. Our meetings indicated though that many teachers are already using WhatsApp to communicate.”
She added that a few were using education platforms such as Edmodo and Google classroom. Many are using Pennacool, a local education platform.
Students will be taught using: information technology; smartphones and WhatsApp messages between parents and teachers; television; and printed material. Volunteer teacher groups were set up to develop each. Core subjects Mathematics, English, Reading, and Creative Writing will be the focus, and Family Life Education added later.
Principals were asked to provide the technology status of each child and teacher. Focus group meetings suggest teachers are overwhelmed. “Many are new to e-learning. Many have their children, and some have elderly parents at home. They are not ready to learn new skills just yet. So, the approach is to throw a lifeboat to each teacher and student to ensure that they function with what technology they have in term three,” she said.
A survey has so far found an estimated 20 per cent of teachers have no devices and 30 per cent have no internet or devices.
A different approach is to be used with students and teachers “matched” by technology not school. Mangroo reported “many classes are split alongside the technology lines”. Mangroo further stated that a “massive training” exercise will take place July-August to move all teachers to a platform and get them to a competent level.
An appeal has gone out via Archbishop Gordon for donations of unused working devices—smartphones, tablets and computers, for distribution to teachers and students.
The Education Ministry is also working to get devices for pupils. At last Tuesday’s media briefing carried on TTT and streamed online, Minister in the Education Ministry Dr Lovell Francis said there were laptops at schools and getting them to teachers was being worked out. A “rough estimate” indicates 60,000 devices were needed for pupils.
“That’s a very large number that is going to be a very tremendous cost. We have been looking at finding ways to get devices,” Francis said referring to the drive started by the CEBM. The ministry has received funding assistance from UNICEF to purchase devices.
“As to ensuring every single student gets a device that is something we have to do procedurally and Cabinet may have to have some say in,” he said. Francis said the platform: learn.moe.gov.tt and all its features can be accessed using the “cheapest” of devices.
He disclosed that following a call by the ministry, many teachers “took up the mantle” to create content to upload to the LMS. Francis said content is available for Early Childhood Care and Education level to Caribbean Secondary Entrance Certificate and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination. It is updated on a “daily basis” he said.