The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information is encouraging students and other relevant stakeholders to become familiar with the Google Suite Learning Management System, which is being rolled out across all educational institutions.
The system is designed for teaching and learning, and teachers are receiving the necessary training on the different tools in the programme, while support is being provided for all schools.
“We have actually started the pilot. Twenty of our schools (infant, primary and secondary) participated and now we are ready for the full roll-out. We have sensitised all our principals already and so they are fully ready to get our teachers on board. We are making sure that teachers are now able to create their own learning environment,” Acting Chief Education Officer in the Ministry, Dr. Kasan Troupe, told JIS News.
“Those schools that would have already had learning management systems in place, this is interoperable, meaning they can interact and communicate with each other, so they don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel. But we have now provided this national support for all schools to have a learning management platform to offer teaching and learning,” she added.
She is encouraging students to get familiar with the google suite, as this is the environment that most of them, if not all, will be using for their virtual environment or computer-aided learning episodes.
“I would ask our parents to get familiar with that. They will hear some more from their different principals, as we continue the sensitisation, but this is where we are going formally for October,” Dr. Troupe said.
She noted that a number of institutions will move ahead in activating this platform by the middle of September to give students an opportunity to get familiar with it, and for teachers to interact and build their classroom spaces.
“Their form rooms will be built online, their subject classes will be built online, their rooms for consultation forum and dialogue will be built online. All of this will be happening in September for readiness and full implementation on October 5,” Dr. Troupe said.
The Acting Chief Education Officer also provided tips on how students and teachers can remain engaged during the online learning experience.
She encouraged parents to provide a learning space within the home, which students can utilise and put into their routine.
“We need our parents getting that routine, getting that environment ready and also to make sure that the support of supervision that must be put in place for our students [is there],” Dr. Troupe said.
“So, whilst parents were comforted that students were at school and they are safe, for the most part going forward they will not be in physical school, they probably will be home and so parents will definitely have to partner with members and neighbours to put together supervisory support, even on a schedule. That kind of communication and planning must now take place to deal with this new normal,” she added.
She also mentioned that teachers have been undergoing training through the Jamaica Teaching Council and other stakeholders, which should translate into some interactive learning environment.
Dr. Troupe said as part of the training course for principals and teachers, focus was placed on developing interactive lessons in the virtual space.
“The same things they utilise in a physical brick and mortar classroom, they will have to bring it into that space. They will have to set behavioural expectations…what is it that is expected within the environment, how do we answer our questions, how do we give feedback, how do we utilise the features in the platform, the raise hands, the claps, the cheers, as part of the positive learning environment,” she noted.
“They will also have to help our students to remove distractions. A part of setting the learning environment and the tone for the lessons and to make it purposeful and productive, our teachers will have to help our students remove any kind of background distractions…turn off their radios and remove some things comical behind you that is going to distract other students,” she added.
Dr. Troupe also recommended that students close all distracting browsers on the computers or tablets that they are working on, and that teachers will have to provide those ground rules very early.
“Of course, you start your lessons with something inspirational…be it a song or a joke. Start the first two minutes with free talk, asking students to share a wow moment. So, our teachers will have to set a clear routine, so our students know what is happening and when to get on,” she said.
She added that teachers should encourage students to go through and play with the virtual classroom and learn to also use whiteboard.
“Our teachers can actually use the whiteboard. In the learning management system that we have provided, there is something called Jamboard that they can actually write and the students can also write. Students will be given an opportunity to answer a question, to write their answers, to work out a math problem, right there in the virtual space. So, our teachers will definitely give our students some time to walk through this virtual classroom,” Dr. Troupe said.
The Ministry will also be providing electronic content or e-resources for students and teachers.
“So, the links will be provided ahead of time so the students can click on these links and it will take them to their learning content. We have provided for them a workbook and even reading materials that we have provided for them in the e-resource App. So, it is about planning and it is about getting our students familiar and it’s about setting routines, following up and of course using positive narratives,” Dr. Troupe said.
The Acting Chief Education Officer further pointed out that it is important for teachers to organise their classes.
“This is what the training programmes would have done for our teachers, how do you create your environment, how do you create e-content, how do you execute that lesson, how do you bring in the learning styles and differentiating principles in the design and delivery of your lessons. So, we are anticipating great transformation within the virtual space. We know that it will not be void of challenges, but collaboratively, we can make it work,” Dr. Troupe said.
The Acting Chief Education Officer said while the Ministry hopes that there will be face-to-face teaching in October, if this is not possible, the Ministry will make sure that information is shared as to what students should be doing at a particular time.
“So, we may have to build out on our televised programmes through our own networks that we have procured and we will also have to utilise our printed learning kits. We have put the systems in place now, to make sure that the printing facilities are in place and we have communicated to our principals already to start putting learning kits together, in the event we have to rely on this in providing learning materials to homes, so engagement can continue,” Dr. Troupe informed.
“We will encourage our parents to pay attention to the notifications we will send out via our bulletin, via the media, and social media. Pay attention to your schools’ platforms for the information they will be sending out, because as the goal- post changes or moves, we have to provide guidelines,” she added.
With the recent spike in cases of COVID-19, the opening of the 2020-21 academic school year, initially scheduled for September 7, has been pushed back to October 5, with a blended approach to learning to be employed.
This involves limited face-to-face engagement, online and offline computer-aided learning, televised learning and the provision of printed learning kits for students without Internet access, the use of the Ministry’s content app and other learning management systems.