Checking in: Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, right, speaks to Minister in the Ministry of Education Lisa Morris-Julian during a media conference at the ministry’s Port-of-Spain headquarters recently.

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly says MiFi devices to boost Internet connectivity at schools are available on request, while more than 8,000 teachers have received laptops.

Gadsby-Dolly disclosed the information yesterday, as she responded to complaints by stakeholders in the education sector that teachers who have returned to the physical classroom are experiencing connectivity issues that are impacting online teaching.

The Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA), which led a blackout protest that saw teachers unplugging their devices on September 30 and on Tuesday, had also raised issues about teachers having to use personal devices for online teaching because the ministry had not provided any.

Asked about these issues, the minister, via Whatsapp Messenger, said, “The MoE (Ministry of Education) has advised all schools that MiFi devices will be made available for assistance with connectivity, upon request and subject to availability. These are being supplied currently as requests come in.

“The ministry has crossed 8,000 laptops distributed to teachers to date. This is ongoing at this time. We have approximately 13,000 teachers on record. Not all have requested MoE laptops.”

Asked about the letter delivered by parents to the ministry on Monday, the minister said that a reply has been sent.

Gadsby-Dolly also denied students are being deprived of an education.

“We must transition back to the physical classroom and we are doing so carefully – with our children’s safety as paramount. Online education cannot and will not replace the face-to-face education of our students at ECCE, primary and secondary levels.

“The first step is to allow the vaccinated Forms 4-6 students to come out. Once their circulation and that of teachers does not impact the health situation negatively, we can make further decisions about the next phase of students to come out to physical school.

“This time of transition back to the physical classroom means that the online environment will undergo some changes.”

She agreed with TTUTA that the teachers’ workload must be considered.

“The reality is that if teachers are out physically, adjustments will have to be made to online delivery – in all cases; it cannot be business as usual,” Gadsby-Dolly said.

But while schools are making every effort, the minister said parents must be understanding and co-operative during this time.

“Again, the call is being made to parents to vaccinate children and allow them the best chance of success at physical school. The Government is doing all it can to bring our students safely out, cohort by cohort, to resume physical school.”

Meanwhile, Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes is questioning if the the ministry has reopened physical schools for vaccinated children in Forms 4,5 and 6 without taking into account key considerations from stakeholders.

Noting that many people had asked the Government to use the data to decide whether it made financial and economic sense to reopen schools, she said, “I am also part of the community that hopes that we can quickly get to a space where schools can be reopened safely. Right now, we only saw about 3,000 students.

“In our own community, in a number of schools, the teachers said they cannot come out to teach two students or three students and that could have been avoided if the ministry consulted with the educators, if they had a conversation with TTUTA.”

She claimed TTUTA is “fighting” to have a conversation with the ministry.

“So if the Ministry of Education not talking to TTUTA and school supervisors and educators, who are they talking to, to make these policy decisions?”

Haynes also claimed that in the Standing Finance Committee, $40 million was allocated for laptops but only $2 million has been spent on the initiative.