By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Nelson Street Boys’ RC teacher Shaquille Julian didn’t wait for the announcement of the COVID-19 lockdown to start planning e-learning for his pupils and getting devices for some children. He also got a few printers. The reward has been greater class engagement and improvement in work.
When COVID cases started cropping up regionally and about a week before local COVID cases were reported (the first confirmed case was March 12) Julian, a teacher at the school for the past two years, decided to create an online learning platform.
He set up a Zoom account and a WhatsApp group to send assignments and receive queries. Schools closed March 13 and that night he had a test run of the platform with his parents. The first two-hour class was on Saturday, March 14. “Everything ran smoothly. That week, everybody was at home with the lockdown,” the 26-year-old said in a telephone interview May 26.
Some parents belonged to essential services so when they went out to work, Julian realised some pupils were depending on their phones to access classes and video tutorials.
Julian donated a laptop he no longer used after getting it “wiped” (reset) but a dilemma arose in deciding to whom to give it. “That is where the motivation came to look for devices,” he said.
Julian asked family members who had upgraded their cellphones to donate the old ones; he got three. He contacted parents who were told to collect the devices at the school.
For a fourth child who still needed a device, work was photocopied for him to do during the day and he would view the video tutorials in the evening when his parent returned home. Julian did eventually secure a device for him.
To further assist their learning, he got printers. He purchased two, his sister sponsored one and a friend donated. He could not get for all pupils.
To get the benefit of the printers, they were given to students whose peers lived in surrounding communities so they could make copies for them.
Julian’s class was initially a group of 27 remedial pupils repeating Standard Four. Since the children need a bit more support, the class was split into two with the principal, Frances Gervais-Heath taking 13 pupils and he took 14.
Trying to continue teaching 27 pupils under COVID restrictions was taking a physical toll as Julian would be at school “sometimes up to 7 p.m. going through work to ensure I am able to give each child feedback”. Julian and Gervais-Heath work together sharing the topics for class.
The Zoom classes are held four times weekly with two-hour sessions for Mathematics, English Language Arts, Creative Writing. On days they are not “face to face”, prepared video tutorials, notes, worksheets, and YouTube videos are sent. The tutorials take about two to three hours to prepare.
Students’ grades improve
A system was developed in which Julian collected work submitted by pupils at the security booth and parents returned to collect them in sealed packages. “They do a curbside pick-up and drop off the books every two weeks so I will mark and sign them, so they know ‘Sir not just giving work, we are getting the work corrected; we are seeing where we went wrong’ that kind of thing”.
Julian has an “open-phone policy” for students to telephone or send a message at any time for assistance and clarification.
He said, “boys have a love of the computer and phone, anything ‘techie’ you can get them”. In the past, he has seen just the use of a projector to present classes in PowerPoint can stimulate more interest than the usual chalk and talk.
“They were truly interested in Zoom and in the online platform…it gives them a bigger feel, ‘we have an online class, we are doing work on computer, we are submitting work on the computer’,” he said.
He gave the example of a child whose grades were impacted because he was easily distracted and talked a lot during class but has since improved. “I realise during the online classes and online learning I am getting work from him on time,” Julian said.
Tests are done weekly via Zoom, and this boy did very well. His mother reported that she saw him enjoying the work as he was tested.
This is motivation to go on. Although e-learning can be beneficial, Julian qualified this saying that the students with the resources and parental support “soar” while others with limited resources and support struggle.
Julian recently asked his pupils when they could take a one-week break as he was growing a little tired. One boy replied that there wasn’t time as they were getting the hang of the work. “Most of them said ‘Yes, Sir, we pushing’. I asked ‘What do you all think of a weekend break?’ They said, ‘Alright, Sir, we could live with one weekend’,” he said. It was decided every other weekend there would be no Saturday classes. The students move up to Standard Five next year.