The closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic and emphasis on virtual learning has caused a spike in demand for electronic devices. Over 15,000 devices are needed for 119 RC primary schools.
The Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) has collected data on the number needed as follows: Infants 1–2069; Infants 2–2210; Standard 1–2269; Standard 2–2287; Standard 3–2255; Standard 4–2478; and Standard Five–2221. The total is 15,789 devices for pupils and teachers.
Archbishop Jason Gordon took the lead during the lockdown appealing in April for donation of devices—used laptops, tablets, iPads or smartphones in good working condition for SEA teachers and children. The public was advised to send emails to email@example.com or go to https://catholictt.org/donate-a-device/
CEBM Senior Operations Manager Ayanna Nero told the Catholic News, “Thank you to the selfless souls who have donated 130 devices to our teachers to allow them to reach out in these difficult times to continue the much-needed education of our youth.” The Donate a Device thrust also collected devices for children. However, children are still being left behind.
Nero said while some children are benefitting from the latest gadgets and high-speed internet connections, “so many of our children are left without the simplest desktop computers to follow along with their teachers in virtual classes.” She appealed to the public, “donate electronics for our pupils to learn. They need functional, up-to-date devices to learn effectively. Aid us in bridging the gap to give all students the opportunity to be able to lead us to a brighter future.”
The devices donated should be: a minimum of five years old, capable of running the latest operating systems, include the charger, wiped of personal information, and have no cracked screens.
Nero said any Information Technology technician willing to volunteer would be appreciated in cases where persons wish to donate parts for devices.
The disparity of learning experiences is highlighted during this time.
Brasso Seco RC is among the schools (Rose Hill RC, Matelot Community College, Mundo Nuevo RC and Caratal RC) without Ministry of Education supplied internet connectivity. It is located 16 miles north of Arima in the Paria Valley and can be accessed by the Blanchisseuse Road.
The school had applied for internet with the Ministry of Education’s Information and Communications Technology Division (ICTD) in 2015. In an attempt to assist with the Ministry’s ICTD plan for schools, teachers got together and secured an internet device with limited bandwidth. However, with the advent of the COVID pandemic and the closure of schools, the device remains mainly unused.
The landline phone has been down since 2018 when trees fell on the telephone lines. Checks with Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago have revealed that there is still an active account in the school’s name.
The school has 36 pupils. The classes are “multi-grade” meaning each teacher has two classes Infants one and two, Standards One and Two, Standards Three and Four and Standard Five. Since March, when the lockdown began, teachers have been sending “blocks” of work usually on Monday and Wednesday which are to be returned within the week. Reminders are given Tuesdays and Thursday and teachers try to communicate with parents on Friday to remind them of the necessity of ensuring pupil participation and to give feedback to the parents. Most students have been responding well. Separate school work has to be prepared for the few children with different learning abilities.
WhatsApp is the main communication channel between teachers and parents. When parents can, they top up on data and download the school work. When it is completed a photo is taken and sent back to the teachers. The main mode of delivery of school work however, is printed material, the cost of which is usually borne by the teachers. Arrangements have to be made to get it to children who live some distance away, collected and returned to the school. This is done by teachers who deliver work to the school for pick up and return.
There are pupils of the school who live in the Arima area and various areas on the Blanchisseuse Main Road. For pupils from the village of Morne La Croix, 7 miles from Brasso Seco however, there is no public transport. Prior to COVID-19, children usually arrived at school by 6.30 a.m. as they travel on the school transport that comes to take secondary school students either to Arima or back to Blanchisseuse. Many pupils assist their parents with agricultural and other household activities before going to school.
To address the need for devices, the Education Ministry this term started the Adopt-A-School initiative to partner with the private sector to assist pupils and teachers. In Guidelines for the Reopening of Schools issued in July, the ministry acknowledged the gap from a survey ‘Teaching and Learning Using the Online Platform’ conducted March 16 to April 3, which “revealed that both students and teachers were challenged by connectivity issues and/or access to ICT devices”. The ministry estimated that nationally 65,000 pupils are without devices.
Anyone interested in donating laptops, tablets or desktops are invited to contact the CEBM via its Facebook Page or firstname.lastname@example.org Phones are not the best option for the long-term. The CEBM will also accept donations towards the purchase of devices.
By Lara Pickford-Gordon