By Elesha George
Private schools are defending a decision to charge full tuition for students to complete the third term of the current school year even while they continue to engage in remote learning.
Parents have argued that their children are not receiving the same quality of education and in some cases, in addition to paying full tuition, they have to pay someone to supervise their children when they go to work. They have also complained that some teachers do not know how to use the online platform which has caused their children to fall behind.
However, the President of the Private Educational Institutions of Antigua and Barbuda, and Principal of Trinity Academy, Adeola Matthew, said she does not agree that the quality of education delivered online is any less than what is delivered during face-to-face sessions.
Matthew, who represents 25 local private schools, told Observer that many of the institutions do not operate at cost and that school fees are supplemented. Schools, she said, have historically had to engage in other supplementary activities to cover the cost of their operations – seeking scholarship donors in some cases.
“In the face of not having live classes – in-person sessions – many of our expenses do not go away. People may think that utility bills go down significantly but they really don’t because, in many cases, the teachers continue to come to school and work from school and so the cost does not go down and the service does not change,” she stated.
Matthew said many schools have been doing more. For example, she noted that educators have had to teach multiple sessions by dividing their classes into groups so that students can better grasp the material.
“I may have to engage most of the class at 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning, which is the scheduled time, but there are some students who cannot be reached then and we have to engage then 6, 7, 8o’clock in the evening because they must wait until their parents return with the device or the data,” she explained.
She insists that “when one considers that the actual work of reaching all the students has actually increased, I think paying the fees is justified”.
The president also spoke to the challenges faced at private institutions, implying that they are not different from that of public schools.
“I think many misconceptions exist in the public sphere about private schools,” she said, noting that private school students are not always those with money and who can afford to buy the necessary resources.
According to Matthew, “we have many students who have difficulties with getting devices; we have many students from our after school [programmes] who have difficulties accessing reliable internet. They still depend on using data from their parents’ phones. So, in as much as a parent makes a sacrifice to pay tuition, it does not remove other challenges that they have that are financially based”.
Meantime, Matthew said that private schools continue to engage with the Ministry of Education on the decision regarding the return of face-to-face classes.
One of her concerns, she shared, is about the supervision of children, which is why the body wrote to the Director of Education supporting the reopening of early childhood facilities.
“We realised during the lockdown period, several parents struggled to find proper childcare, especially for very young children and, in some instances, maybe some less than best practice activities were engaged to keep children,” she said.
The private schools’ association president concluded that while many schools were unprepared to transform into remote learning last year, she believes that the privately-run schools are in a better position this year, thanks to the support among the various institutions.