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Education Minister Anthony Garcia says he is awaiting information from schools to determine the true nature and extent of the need by both teachers and students unable to access e-learning platforms.

He said once this information is received, he will be able to take immediate action.

During a telephone interview yesterday, Garcia said, “Through relationships with public and private entities, devices and connectivity will soon be made available once the information is collated.”

Hitting back at detractors accusing the ministry of not acting swiftly enough to bring students and teachers on to the e-learning platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic, Garcia said they had taken steps to address claims that 60,000 students remained without access to technological devices, while internet connectivity was also hampering online learning.

He said they are in the process of gathering data which will help them to determine what kind of support both teachers and students need.

He said, “As with many other countries regionally and internationally, the fluidity of this pandemic continues to make it difficult to ascertain the best solutions when the situation is always changing.”

Garcia said, “The Ministry of Education has been preparing for digital transformation since this Government assumed office in 2015.”

Acknowledging the challenge that many parents face with online teaching and teachers not conducting classes, he said, “It is one that is being addressed through communication with the relevant stakeholders.”

Shortly after assuming office in 2015, Garcia said a review of previously existing Laptop Programme was undertaken, following which they implemented the five-star ICT Plan which encompasses policy and administration, infrastructural upgrades and teacher training.

He said as part of the induction process for new teachers, they have to undergo ICT training.

Garcia said as part of the remit to infuse ICT into all subject areas, “The Ministry has since distributed over 13,000 laptops to schools.”

In September 2019, the ministry also launched the Education Management Information System (EMIS) and the School Learning Management System (SLMS) enabling schools to become familiar with digital management of school administration and everyday classrooms.

The minister claimed, “The SLMS platform can be accessed through any device including cell phones.”

He said it was unfair and untrue to say that 60,000 students remained without access as this could easily be gotten via these devices.

Up to 4 pm yesterday, the SLMS platform usage data confirmed that over 100,000 students were accessing online material, whilst 4,000 teachers were actively uploading lesson plans.

T&T has a total of 13,000 teachers.

Garcia insisted that when the threat of COVID-19 became real, the ministry, “Issued a call to all teachers and principals to populate the platforms that were already available to them, for the benefit of all education stakeholders.”

He said the ministry’s actions thus far was evidence that, “The MOE has been working consistently to ensure that teachers and students can have access to education and was prepared for the now digital reality that schools are facing.”

Cognizant that not all households had access to devices and connectivity to enable online learning, Garcia said, “T&T is not unique in this regard.”

He said educational counterparts in Jamaica and Barbados have also reported similar challenges.

Garcia is expected to participate in a discussion with education ministers from around the region this week, “So we can discuss our common problems and see how best we can deal with the challenges that are affecting all of us as it is not exclusive to T&T.”

Meanwhile, following a directive to their members late on Friday, not to accept any government-issued laptops before legal advice is handed down—TTUTA President Antonia Tekah-De Freitas said, “TTUTA has advised its members to hold on signing of contracts for receipts of laptops until our lawyers have reviewed the contracts. There are some serious concerns about some terms proposed in the agreement. The union wants to ensure that teachers are protected.”