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Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools of T&T president Sherra Carrington-James.

Some secondary school students are quitting classes and taking up jobs—and there are major challenges with the remote learning system for some primary school pupils particularly.

Both issues were aired at yesterday’s meeting of the Parliamentary committee (Social Service and Public Administration) which interviewed Education Ministry and education stakeholders on the hybrid learning system, which was implemented following the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The issue of secondary students leaving classes to get jobs was revealed by Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools president Sherra Carrington-James. She said some secondary schools’ information showed this. If the figure might be 30 students, she estimated, “That’s 30 too many.”

Carrington-James said it would be a challenge to get them back even when school buildings reopened and they could be lost to the system forever if the situation wasn’t addressed.

National Primary Schools Principals Association president Lance Mottley said there was also absenteeism among primary school students. He said there are challenges in the pandemic landscape that exacerbate absenteeism, including parents having to work. He wasn’t sure how widespread the statistics were.

The Education Ministry had a figure of 39,861 students not participating in classes but this was said to involve mainly those who lacked Internet access or devices.

JSC chairman Paul Richards read some findings from the Education Ministry’s information on how teachers, students and parents are coping with the new system.

Among findings on the practicality of remote learning, 19 per cent of primary students, or almost one in five, disagreed that their Internet access at home was good for remote learning.

Fifteen per cent disagreed they had access to a device and 22 per cent of primary school students disagreed that they had a quiet area to study at home.

Also, 17.2 per cent of primary students and 27.1 per cent of secondary students disagreed they got interesting activities to do in remote learning sessions.

Students also reported socio-economic issues with remote learning and 51 and 52 per cent at primary and secondary levels found it difficult to focus. Sixty-five per cent at secondary level reported feeling stressed more than usual with this system.

The effectiveness of remote learning for students was also rated, with one being ineffective and five being very effective. Primary teachers gave a 2.9 rating and secondary teachers 4.

The findings showed that parents’ major problem was difficulty in focusing on their own work plus their children’s. The issue of concentration persisted, with parents agreeing it was difficult to keep their children focused with remote learning.

The biggest challenge for teachers was work-life balance. Only 34.4 per cent of primary teachers and 41.2 per cent of secondary teachers agreed they were able to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Acting Chief Education Officer Lisa Henry-David said there are hotlines where an average of 50 calls daily are received from students on different issues but not necessarily on suicidal matters.

Mottley said some schools need toner for photocopying machines but other schools need such machines to make education packages for students.

“It’s a double whammy: having to rely on packages for learning, but their schools have no photocopiers to do packages,” he said.

He said it was difficult to teach primary students with packages because there was no way of knowing if someone was prompting students.

Carrington-James, citing similar problems at secondary schools, said using packages aren’t a successful method since teachers may not know if the work is really done by students.