The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information is exploring the possibility of accommodating additional institutions under the e-COVID-19 face-to-face pilot reopening of schools.

 

Portfolio Minister, Hon. Fayval Williams, said the Ministry is assessing the outcomes, thus far, of the two-week engagement that got underway on November 10.

 

This, she added, to determine how best other institutions can be included in the undertaking that involves an initial 17 schools.

 

“There are many variables to consider, such as: enrolment, the number of communities students have to pass on the way to school, the water situation, the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the communities, and internet availability in the communities,” Mrs. Williams said.

 

Against this background, she advised that the Ministry is collating information “to determine what are the next steps for the new round of openings”, while indicating that the undertaking has been “going well” since commencing.

 

The Minister was speaking during a ceremony at Bellefield Primary and Infant School in Manchester on Friday (November 13), for the presentation of tablet computers to Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH) student beneficiaries at the institution.  

 

The pilot for the resumption of face-to-face classes involved 6,000 students at the selected schools, which are located in nine parishes. Twelve of the institutions are at the primary level while five are secondary schools.

 

They are situated in Clarendon, Manchester, Portland, St. Ann, St. Elizabeth, St. James, Westmoreland, St. Thomas, and Trelawny.

 

Mrs. Williams also advised that the Ministry is procuring tablet computers for allocation to high school students in grades 10-13, who are PATH beneficiaries.

 

“This is the stage where they are in serious preparation for exams. We know there are many needy families across Jamaica. So come November 17, we will open registration for them to apply for $20,000 to assist with the purchase of a tablet or laptop,” the Minister informed.

 

Mrs. Williams said that in order to assist parents in this regard, the Ministry is drafting a list of selected vendors from whom they can purchase devices, thereby avoiding sub-standard products that may be on the market.

 

She further informed that parents will be provided with e-vouchers to make the purchases.

 

Mrs. Williams said the Government is being deliberate in its approach to ensure that every child in school requiring a tablet or laptop, is provided with one. 

 

She pointed out that the Administration has articulated its vision of creating and implementing a national broadband network across Jamaica, adding that “putting devices in the hands of students is just part of that bigger vision.”

 

Minister Williams said the Government is repositioning Jamaica on a path to becoming fully digital, and is taking steps to ensure that citizens can become digitally literate.

 

She maintained that education has to be the vehicle to advance the country towards becoming a digital economy, adding that the engagements with the schools represent the start of a journey that would see all citizens eventually able to use technology to improve their lives.

 

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of e-Learning Jamaica Company Limited, Keith Smith, said that of the 40,000 tablets procured for students so far, 36,000 have already been distributed.

 

He indicated that the remaining 4,000 devices are expected to be issued to PATH students by next week, with another 24,000 tablets earmarked for distribution to teachers.

 

Cabinet has also approved the purchase of 15,000 computers from technology solutions firm, Dell, to be used by Grade 10 and 11 PATH students.

 

Some 40,000 tablets are being distributed to primary school students islandwide in grades four, five and six, who are deemed to be among the most economically challenged in the society, which renders them unable to access online learning while the physical space at a number of schools remain closed, as part of COVID-19 safeguards.