By Theresa Goodwin
Their friends, teachers, sports, extracurricular activities, “the loud and crazy lunchroom” and sharing their snacks, are some things children say they miss most since they are not physically at school.
However, some of them at the primary and secondary levels have discovered that they are now getting to enjoy working at their own pace, on strict schedules, of course, and be free from “the stressful environment of school”.
Others, though, recounted the challenges of remote learning, from struggling to directly interact with teachers in a timely manner, getting easily distracted, a hectic schedule, to not having reliable internet access and not knowing when completed assignments will be graded.
“It’s a lot of work. Sometimes, it is hard but my teachers are there to help me. Another educator, my social studies teacher, she sends in a lot of work and it is quite easy but she does not mark the work,” said *Kizzy* a grade 5 student.
She said that particular teacher insists that the assignments will be marked when schools reopen, and this is troubling because there is no clear timeframe for when students will return to face-to-face interaction.
Last week, the Ministry of Education announced a further extension of the remote learning mode until April, due to the current situation as it relates to the coronavirus pandemic.
It was also noted that schools may schedule in-person instructions for Grade 6 and Form 5 students to allow them to complete School Based Assessments (SBAs) and the practical components that are required for some subjects.
Like Kizzy, *Brandon*, a first former, is enjoying the fact that he is able to do all his assignments from the comfort of his home.
“I get to do my work in a space that I am comfortable in and I do not really have to leave and go anywhere to do my work. I love in-person classes though, because you get to interact more with the teachers. On the Zoom platform we are now getting to interact more,” he said.
Another first former from another educational institution stated that, “It is boring because you cannot interact much with the teacher. Connecting to the classes on time is also a problem because of Internet connection issues. The work though, is easier on the platform and I am able to understand better,” the male student shared.
The transition, has been a bit difficulty for 17-year-old *Adam* who has to call his tutors by via phone to connect to get clarification on his lessons and other assignments.
The fifth former is in the process of completing SBAs and other projects as he prepares for CXC between June and July this year.
For a closer look on what is happening on the tertiary side, our newsroom had an extensive conversation with President of the Guild of Students at the UWI Five Islands Campus, Caleb Gardiner.
According to him, at the start of the semester students were using the Zoom platform, however, they eventually switched to another E-learning platform due to challenges with band width and slow connection.
The tertiary level students are also convinced that some courses are better delivered in-person than online.
“It all depends on the lecturers as well because some lecturers have not adapted to the online delivery. Lectures who are accustomed to the face-to-face modality, they are having a hard time transitioning dealing with the lessons online and many students also, still have not adopted as well, so the feelings are mixed,” he said.
He also added that some students are also demotivated having to deal with lessons and issues within their homes at the same time, instead of escaping to the campus where they can focus solely on their studies.
“Another concern is that some have been complaining about severe headaches and migraines having to gaze at a computer screen all day; both students and lectures should be encouraged to take breaks in between sessions.
As noted in the previous articles, remote learning in Antigua and Barbuda is blend of online instruction for students with Internet access and devices to complete their assignments, while those without devices or Internet are able to collect pre-packed materials from their schools on a weekly basis.
While each partner in the process, be it a teacher, parent, student, or education officials, may have highlighted several challenges, one thing that resonates with everyone is that the education sector is now in a better place to handle the problems when compared to March 2020 when the country was first placed on a lockdown.
Director of Education Clare Browne made it clear that the Ministry of Education is fully aware that there have been challenges within the system. However, the ministry has to look at the effectiveness of what is being done and this can only be done through empirical data.
He said the ministry will be conducting a survey over the next few days to get a general assessment of the situation and this data will be used to guide the decision-making process.
He also spoke about the distribution of laptop computers and computer tablets which will be distributed to public school students through the Board of Education in order to ensure that children are equipped with electronic devices.
The education director also highlighted issues where teachers would have gone out of their way to prepare learning packages for students and those packages are not collected.
Browne said while educators on the island are doing their best to reach children, parents, do have an integral role to play.
“Schools would say to us, that parents are being called and they are not answering calls and that sort of thing. In order for this process to work and for students to benefit optimally, all hands must be on deck. We can only depend on our parents to assist us,” Browne said.
“The Ministry of Education, the principals and teachers of all our schools, public and private, will continue to seek to reach the students that are in our care so that their education may continue, but the parents have to help us,” he added.
Browne also insisted that no learner in Antigua and Barbuda will be left behind, a primary goal for all educators, parents, and students whom he described as being very resilient.