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Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes, right, presents a tablet and hamper to Byron Guerra, centre and his mother, Amanda Guerra, at Campo Surya Belle, Claxton Bay, during a laptop and hamper distribution by Widow Support TT yesterday.

While some children may be excited to return to school in promoted classes this September, the inequity in learning during the COVID-19 pandemic means that some have to repeat the past year.

Widows and single mothers travelled to Claxton Bay Saturday to finally access laptops and tablets for their children from Widow Support TT. With over 1,000 COVID-19 deaths, Widow Support TT founder Surya Nanan said there were many women whose husbands died from COVID-19 and were unemployed for over a year. She said there were numerous pleas for hampers, and while talking to these mothers, they realised that their children did not have access to learning devices.

“You would be surprised to know how many people there are, whose children got kept back. There was a mother who called me. Her daughters, two of them, ended up in Standard Four because the Standard Five child could not go up to Standard Five. She has to stay down in Standard Four because they did not have a learning device,” Nanan said.

One of the recipients, Linda Rojas’ seven-year-old daughter, has to repeat Second-Year. Rojas had one phone and could only allow her 12-year-old daughter to use it to prepare for the Secondary Entrance Assessment. The single mother said she was a domestic worker and was in and out of jobs during the pandemic. Her younger daughter attends a private school because she suffers from atopic dermatitis. However, when the Ministry of Education ordered the closure of all schools at the onset of COVID-19, the private school went to fully online learning.

Rojas said she wrote a letter and even went to the Ministry of Education to see if any help was available. She said she even sent a message on Facebook to Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, but there was no response.

“I am a single parent, but her (father) pays for her school because she is a sickly child. She has tropical eczema, so it was really difficult to get her into government schools. Everybody just kept telling me there was no space and they could not take her because she has to keep taking her medicine. Nobody could do that in those schools, so I had no choice but to put her in a private school. Then there is the fact that in the private school, there is online only. There is nothing to say that they would give us a package like in government schools,” Rojas said.

With the help of WidowsTT, the Aranguez mother is hopeful of getting a laptop for her elder daughter before she begins secondary school.

Cathy-Ann Oreegal also shared the same experience as her son will repeat his Second-Year class. Oreegal said he used her phone sometimes to complete his schoolwork but could only attend 52 per cent of his classes.

“So they kept him back,” Oreegal said.

After listening to the mothers’ struggles, Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes recalled asking a Joint Select Committee meeting how the Ministry determined how many students were accessing online classes. As the Ministry moves towards reopening physical schools, Haynes said not all schools could give learning packages to students without access to online learning. She said that her office did a lot of photocopies to assist students in the constituency.

“We are now in the process of discussing the reopening of physical schools. That discussion is ongoing but what we have seen is that over the past year, a lot of students have been left behind. It is not just a question of getting a laptop to somebody. It is also connectivity; it is also how are you are assessing the access to classes. Are they learning and are then able to be promoted because that redounds to all of society, whether or not we are teaching peoples in school online or not so that they can be productive citizens,” Haynes said.

With the uncertainty of COVID-19, the need for more vaccines, and the highly infectious Delta Variant in the Caribbean, Haynes questions how the Ministry of Education could look towards the reopening of physical school without a proper assessment. She said that a survey on how many students could access online learning could determine if there should be a blend of online and physical classes.