Dr Tim Gopeesingh

Former education minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh wants the Ministry of Education to provide the tools and connection for more students to be online.

In a media release on Friday, he said “Mere weeks into the Ministry of Education’s (MoEd) online teaching programme, there are very disturbing reports that an alarming number of students throughout T&T are NOT accessing their education via this forum.

“This is primarily due to the fact that numerous students have no access to electronic devices and/or internet connectivity, which are both vital for their participation in online schooling. “

But according to Gopeesingh, “in the face of this highly worrying development, the MoEd disturbingly appears to be making no tangible effort to address this very serious matter.”

He said the reality was that there were over 200,000 students in secondary (from Forms Ones to Five, and Lower and Upper Six) and primary schools (from Infant Year 1 to Standard Five).

Gopeesingh said since the beginning of the new ‘pandemic’ school term last month, the ministry had consistently admitted that many students still needed the required electronic devices to use in their virtual classes.

He said, however, the ministry had refused to say exactly how many students fell into this bracket, or give any real, detailed and much-needed information overall on its new online teaching policy.

Gopeesingh said this therefore begged the following crucial questions:

▪︎ Has the ministry at all done a school by school assessment, per student population and per student in each school, to determine how many of them have NO access to an electronic device and/or Internet connectivity?

▪︎ How, if at all, has the ministry been able to determine the precise number of students who are participating in the virtual classes throughout the entire primary and secondary school student population of T&T?

▪︎ Has the ministry determined the exact number students who have been left out of this programme because of the inability for parental at home supervision for them? If yes, then what system has been used to assess this?

▪︎How many parents, and in particular single parents, have had to sacrifice their earning in order to remain at home with their children to help them with their virtual online learning?

▪︎ How many parents have not been participating in this programme at all, and have instead opted to go to work to provide food and shelter for their families, thereby leaving their students, in particular the primary school students, without much-needed supervision?

He said it was the ministry’s duty and responsibility to inform the public on how they were dealing with these issues, but thus far, there had been a deafening silence, as well as widespread confusion and misrepresentation of the facts relating to all of these crucial issues.

Gopeesingh said the ministry had shown no evidence of any major consultation undertaken with the major stakeholders besides TTUTA, and even that seemed to be questionable.

He said there were at least 18 denominational school boards, the NPTA, National Primary and Secondary Schools Associations, and at least ten other different major educational organisations.

Gopeesingh said they all deserved to have an input in this very crucial policy.

He said the ministry should actively engage its Students’ Support Services division to identify the students who were having difficulty with the online learning process, either because of lack of devices, internet connectivity or other domestic issues, to help them to adjust to the new online schooling system as quickly as possible.

Gopeesingh said the ministry should also meet with all the network providers (TSTT, Digicel, Flow and GreenDot) to have a proper understanding of which areas were having connectivity problems across the country, and then enlist their support to remedy this problem.

He said the fact remained that, pandemic or no pandemic, it was the constitutional right of every single child in T&T to receive a proper education up to the age of 16. It is also the Government’s responsibility and duty to ensure that this is done at all costs.

Gopeesingh said the Education Ministry must now act immediately to remedy this grave injustice.