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Minister in the Ministry of Education Dr Lovell Francis.

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Government is considering setting up free internet in depressed communities, organising more classroom sessions on national TV and providing devices for underprivileged children in preparation for the new school term.

This was revealed by Minister in the Ministry of Education Dr Lovell Francis.

In an interview with Guardian Media on Friday, Francis said several lessons were learned over the past term and the ministry was looking to improve online platforms for all students.

Admitting that the last term was “not perfect and far from ideal,” Francis said it became evident that more teachers needed training.

“In our effort to keep education alive during the period of COVID-19 pandemic we were fortunate to have already developed quality platforms for online education. The problems we experienced were internet access in some areas and in some cases (lack of) devices,” he said.

He noted that there were “challenges in navigating the new educational landscape but with all this considered, things went better than we could have been expected.”

Francis explained, “It was clear that training was needed and the ministry has been providing that to our teachers. We have also been working to procure devices for our students. Internet Service Providers have also been assisting the Ministry.”

Francis said the online platforms were “a work in progress.”

“It has neither been perfect nor ideal. But we have crossed a threshold and if there is another period of closure education will continue,” he said.

But President of the National Primary Schools Principals Association Lance Mottley said COVID-19 caught everyone off-guard and the ministry should be commended for moving swiftly to organise online classes.

Mottley noted that 68,000 primary and secondary pupils were accessing online platforms but thousands more were left behind.

“We expected and understood that not everyone had the same financial resources to enable them to access online education,” he said.

Mottley recommended that the government offer tax incentives to students so that devices could be imported without paying duties.

“This will make these devices cheaper and easily accessible. The State must also put in the proper infrastructure so that there is cheap internet access,” Mottley said.

He noted that online classes were the new normal and going forward the Ministry must take a blended approach to accommodate online learning for pupils.

Mottley also said that there will be a new role for private tutors as many parents cannot supervise their children’s online learning. Mottley said he will not be surprised if more parents opt to homeschool their children rather than send them out for formal education in the traditional setting.

I won’t be surprised if parents opt for online earning methods rather than sending their children to school because some parents are concerned about COVID,” he added.

Meanwhile, principal of Windermere Private School Laureen Debance-Misir who rolled out her third term with online classes using Zoom said having a reliable internet supply was crucial to the success of online classes.

“Fixing the problems would mean a great internet connection throughout the country, free internet and computers for all children. They can have a big flat screen in the community centre. More classes could be held on the TV so it would meet the range of all children, not just SEA,” she said.

Vice Principal Oma Ramnarine said the online classes worked well.

“I found the interaction with the students was good. Remote learning gave the students a break from the hustling and their attention span was longer. They were less tired and very enthusiastic to learn from this forum,” she said.

Head of Department for the Lower School Ruby Sirjusingh said she provided exercise breaks in between her teaching to keep the children focussed and encouraged.

“This format allows for a lot of creative ways of teaching. You can integrate a lot of technology in the program. And I think the students loved this aspect of online teaching because they are children in the technological age,” she explained.