By Elesha George
The third term of the school year began on Monday with similar challenges as experienced over the last year, and both parents and educators point to a lack of coordination and communication between schools and the Ministry of Education.
The government said last week that it has instructed utility company – Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) to assist households with students whose electricity have been cut off and who have been unable to participate in online classes.
There is still however the issue of reaching students – particularly those in primary school – who do not even have devices or proper supervision to keep up with the new mode of learning.
While the government and public school teachers have often highlighted some of the concerns at public school plants, not much has been said of private institutions that continue to charge full price for delivery of online education.
The delivery of education is a bit more costly especially for educators who have had to depend on their own resources – like using their personal phone data to teach online classes.
These educators have also found their careers turning into a 24-hour job with parents, who themselves try to work around the situation, constantly bombarding them with questions at all hours.
One parent told Observer that her daughter’s teacher is “too old” to fully understand and use the Google Classroom platform.
She also highlighted problems with communicating decisions to the parents, telling Observer “We are expected to pay the school fee in full – it has never been adjusted – while this last term we didn’t even get a report card. Then there’s this unreliable Google Classroom because the teacher is old and she doesn’t know how to teach on that platform.”
The parent is also concerned about the inconsistency of these classes and communication from the principal at the school.
“Sometimes the classes start at 10 am they end at 1pm, 9 am or 9:30 am – different times. Then she just bombards them with a lot of work, I guess to show that she’s sending something. Then Google Classroom marks things incorrectly, she says she’s going to correct them, but she doesn’t get back to you. The principal doesn’t communicate – no official notices have ever been sent out,” she explained.
She is not the only parent complaining about the cost of school fees or the quality of online education that the children are receiving.
The frustration of this new mode of learning was evident yesterday as parents of preschoolers expressed jubilation at the government’s latest decision to open early child care facilities.
There are still however hundreds of students in both public and private institutions, and in both primary and secondary classes, who could not share the same joy and had to juggle yet another day with remote learning.
Meanwhile, Principal of the Princess Margret School (PMS) Dr. Colin Greene says there needs to be more consultation between the Ministry of Education and school administrators to identify the best approach to reach students.
“We need to have some element of face-to-face for not just some of our children but for all of our children, and however we can work out the mechanisms for that, then we’ll have to work out the mechanism for that. Unilateral decisions are not going to help out the situation,” he noted.
Greene believes that at least one day of face-to-face learning, coupled with remote learning can drastically increase the probability of teachers reaching more students.
He shared that between his fourth and fifth form classes there are over 400 students on campus which presents the same risks of having everyone at the school plant.
“We believe that we are taking the same risks, but at the same time, we are reaching less students,” he insisted.
Principal of the Antigua Grammar School (AGS), Samuel Roberts says “talking always helps,” noting he hopes a solution will be forthcoming for students who are having legitimate difficulties with online learning.
“It is a real problem,” Roberts remarked even for those who have access to the material.