Full engagement of all students from 483 primary and 141 secondary schools began yesterday, as teachers across the country engaged in blended learning sessions.

But despite weeks of planning for a smooth rollout, National Primary School Principals Association president Lance Mottley said there were still hiccups as some schools did not have the basic material for paper-based learning.

To facilitate some 60,000 students across the country who do not have access to electronic devices for online classes, the ministry had organised a drop off box system where parents could collect printed classwork weekly. All completed assignments were to be dropped back to the school for correction by teachers under this system.

But Mottley said yesterday that this cannot be done as some schools do not have functional photocopying machines, others had no printers or photocopying machines, while some schools had no printing paper, toner or ink.

“The ministry would need to furnish the schools with photocopiers, send technicians to address the concerns for copiers that are not working and also supply paper and toner to have the copiers working,” Mottley said.

He explained that some 70 per cent of schools started classes last week and except for the lack of materials, the rollout went smoothly.

“However, there continue to be serious challenges about the cost of printing material and we believe the ministry can help assist in that regard,” Mottley said.

He also called on corporate T&T to adopt a school in a community, saying it was important for all students to have access to online classes.

“We know the private sector is experiencing the same kind of challenges but there is still room for more help,” he added.

Meanwhile, a source at the Cunjal Road Government School confirmed that their photocopying machine was down. As such, parents were asked to download the schoolwork via Whatsapp and print it before dropping it back at the school.

However, general secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Vijay Maharaj said the Education Ministry had sent out a memorandum recently asking all principals to identify challenges as it relates to paper-based or online learning.

He said 50 per cent of students in all SDMS schools were using electronic devices.

“It is about to increase to 70 per cent. We are also doing the worksheets. Photocopying is taking place and the Ministry of Education sent out a memorandum about the shortage which they might be encountering,” Maharaj said.

“At this point, we don’t have any shortage of prints, photocopying machines, toners in Maha Sabha primary schools, but if we continue at the rate we are going, the chances are we are going to run short on all three. In the case of the photocopying machines, they do break down and they will break down at some stage.”

Maharaj said there has been no corporate sponsor adopting any of his schools.

“Other than Republic Bank, which supports Balvikas, we have had no corporate sponsor. We approached corporate T&T in the past and we never received any assistance, so we try to be a self-sufficient as a board. DHL from abroad gave us 20 used computers and we were able to get that because of personal contact,” he said.

Yesterday, T&T Unified Teachers Association president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas, in a message to teachers, said she was heartened that continuous dialogue will be ongoing with the ministry to discuss problems.

“We’re not satisfied that the training given to educators was enough to deliver the curriculum and provide psychosocial support. The level of support required by educators must be based on the support needed,” she said.

She also noted that teachers must not use their personal devices to execute classes, saying the State must provide all the necessary resources. She also said there must be non-contact time for work preparation, adding that teachers and administrators must plan and deliver the curriculum within working hours.

In an interview, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly agreed that the ministry should offset the cost of the packages.

“Supplies have been sourced for primary schools, payments and deliveries should be made this week. This will assist those that need these critical supplies to continue to provide the packages.

The private sector support for Adopt A School has been very encouraging,” Gadsby-Dolly said.

She added, “We look forward to supplies becoming available this week and delivered to schools. That has been the bottleneck.”

She also noted that service providers have collaborated with the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT) to provide 10,000 connectivity devices for students, which have already been ordered.