A student from Tobago engaged in online classes earlier this week.

Although the Tobago House of Assembly’s Division of Education, Innovation and Energy led by Kelvin Charles has assured that systems would have been put in place to facilitate online learning, feedback a few days into the experience varies. While many applaud the effort of the island’s teachers, others are reporting issues with poor internet connectivity, loss of power and attempts by some students to interrupt online sessions.

On Monday, many of the island’s schoolchildren were smartly dressed in uniforms and positioned before electronic devices of various forms awaiting the full start of the new school term.

With a few days of official classes since then, the Tobago branch of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TUTTA) has called on the division to focus on fixing the problems within the system.

Parent Jenieve Sandy, a single mother from Plymouth, described her first few days of online school as a “stressful.”

“When teachers took the first week off they could have gone through the system a bit instead of waiting until Monday to figure it out because there was a lot of back and forth–it is just chaos,” Sandy said. She said she was currently on vacation but feels as though she is not. “The sessions are timed and I need to be here because we have to sign in every 45 minutes and some of the material is on Google Classroom so we have to go between Zoom and Google Classroom.”

Sandy said she is not sure how things will work out when she returns to work next week, as her elderly mother cannot supervise her six-year-old son as she is not familiar with computers.

A primary school teacher in the Lambeau community revealed that some students are without access to devices. However, she said the print packages are not yet ready so parents have been advised of this.

At the secondary level, there were mixed reviews.

There was a low student participation rate at some schools, with the Scarborough Secondary School reporting a classroom session where only three students were logged as an example. At other institutions, there were complaints of insufficient teaching time, poor connectivity and disruptive students.

“Some of the classes went okay but the teachers didn’t pay for the software so it’s basically 45 minutes. Some teachers chose to send work instead of actual sessions. When we get the link it doesn’t open for whatever reason,” one parent said. One teacher, who did not want to be named, said some students refuse to wear their uniforms and are disruptive in classes.

“We have situations where we have students looking for attention by doing silly things like putting feet up on the desks but it’s nothing I can’t handle,” the teacher said.

The teacher said strict guidelines have been put in place to ensure students identify themselves before they are accepted into a session, which has prevented any major mishaps. But Secretary in the Division of Education Kelvin Charles has described online teaching in Tobago as “beyond expectations.”

“Of our nine secondary schools, reports received indicate that there was a 95 per cent teacher turn out and a 75 per cent student engagement. Primary schools reported a 98 per cent teacher turnout and a 95 per cent student engagement. At the early childhood level there was a 100 per cent teacher turn out and a 98 per cent student engagement.”

He said packages were prepared for 10 per cent of students who do not have devices.

As it relates to loss of electricity and connectivity issues in some areas, he said: “The division will engage in further discussions with the relevant service providers to ensure greater predictability for teachers and student engagement to enhance the learning experience.”

TUTTA’s Tobago representative Bradon Roberts said teachers are trying their best but the division needs to focus on the real issues.

“We don’t have proper connectivity and some students still don’t have devices. Unfortunately, the division, instead of focussing on those issues, they are frustrating teachers by asking for all kinds of things.”

He said the division has asked to have persons observe the sessions and many teachers are not comfortable with the idea.

“Allow teachers to get comfortable before asking to be a part of the sessions, where there would be some level of supervision and evaluation of the teaching process.”

He said while he understands there must be systems of evaluation put in place, other things have to be taken into consideration. He said although Charles boasts of a 95% attendance, the figure does not factor in how many students lost connection or electricity during sessions.