By Theresa Goodwin
Tuesday evening was just another busy night for one prolific and enthusiastic educator, who was still up way past 11pm, clicking away at her computer as she searched for and compiled information for the next day’s lesson for her grade three class at Villa Primary School.
This has become the normal routine for Karrie Knight and hundreds of teachers across the country who are now working from home and school to provide lessons remotely to students from primary to tertiary levels.
Admitting that the past four weeks have been quite difficult, fraught with several challenges, Knight said she is better prepared now than she was in March 2020 when schools were closed for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was following the news and was seeing what was going on, so I encouraged my parents since last summer to get their children a device. As of right now, only three of my 24 students do not have devices. On the devices we are on Google Classroom which has its own share of challenges, but we are making it work,” Knight said.
Knight has been applauded for the creative way in which she delivers lessons to her eager students. Last year she was shown in a widely circulated video engaged in a back-and-forth exchange with her students who were translating her version of standard English into local Antiguan dialect.
A second video, which was posted on her personal social media page prior to the second closure of schools on February 3, was a simulation exercise with her students about the election process in Antigua and Barbuda.
In that exercise the students led their own campaigns with paraphernalia from the two main political parties on the island, and participated in a mock version of the nomination and voting process.
Asked how she is able to maintain this sort of interaction remotely, Knight explained that she works closely with an assistant teacher who is currently in her second year at the Teacher Training College to make the online sessions as interactive as possible.
“Other than Google Classrooms, we have regular Zoom meetings with different activities. We have a WhatsApp chat where we inform our parents as to what’s on the agenda for the next day so that they can be prepared.
“The other day they were prepared for a lesson on forces, where they had balls and anything else that could move and roll, and they were very much engaged in the lessons.
“For the three students who do not have devices, my teaching assistant records the Zoom sessions and sends it to their parents; that in itself is challenging. She also prints worksheets every Monday for the parents to collect on Tuesdays,” Knight explains.
She said one of the biggest challenges is the poor internet connection, however the students are not daunted.
Within the next few weeks, she also plans to host a virtual science fair and other activities.
The remote learning process has not been so easy for Kimberly* (not her real name), a grade five teacher at a primary school on the northern side of the island.
While Kimberly started out by preparing learning packages for her students, she was eventually advised against this as the case count for the Covid-19 virus continued to increase.
This has severely hampered her efforts to reach out to a significant number of her children, most of whom do not have electronic devices or a reliable internet connection, she said.
“One parent is so sacrificial that she leaves her phone at home with her son when he needs to use it…poignant situation. She loves him to the point where she is willing to sacrifice her convenience.
“Some also do not have unlimited connection. One student reported that when her mother’s data runs out, she has to wait until she buys more,” the distraught teacher explained.
Kimberly said that only 30 percent of her students are actively engaged on the Google Classroom platform. The other students are engaged through WhatsApp where the information is posted in a group and the students, in turn, would send pictures of the completed assignments.
She also stated that while using the WhatsApp format, she is careful not to overwhelm the parents, many of whom lack the means to accommodate their students remotely.
“I feel terrible about the parents and students who are not equipped for remote learning. My heart hurts for them because it is not their fault. And this situation begs the question, is there equality in education? This is an ethical principle.”
“I try to be empathetic. I put myself in their shoes yet still trying to keep the students engaged; after all they still need to continue to learn,” she said.
She added, “Transitioning has been jolting. A wake-up call for the need for a change in our education system. Society evolves continuously and so too should education.”
Kimdale Mackellar, president of the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT) and music teacher at All Saints Secondary School, posited that some teachers are overwhelmed as they were only exposed to basic training.
He added that while most of the schools have support staff, they too are engaged with their own individual classes.
The educator also pointed out that the Ministry of Education had no clear plan in the event schools were forced to return to remote learning and those deficiencies are now being made clear.
“We are having problems reaching the children; they are on the platform and on WhatsApp, but they are just not responding. We do not know what is the problem, and we do not have any data to determine what is happening,” the union president said.
The process of remote learning, he said, is especially challenging for teachers who are also studying and those who have their own children in school too.
The union boss is calling for a national plan for remote learning with the involvement of teachers, parents and students.
Join us again next week for the final part in our remote learning series – ‘The Student’s Voice’.