Local schools begin to embrace e-learning
by Katherine Renton
Multiple schools started their remote e-learning programs in full force this week, and while others have not started with all levels, they have started with their fifth formers and grade sixers.
E-learning has become necessary for schools, following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and causing local educational institutions to physically close on March 20, one week before the scheduled Easter vacation.
Since then, the schools have remained shut, with the date for their reopening being repeatedly pushed back, including once more this Tuesday, April 21, for another two weeks.
The Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) is also at the mercy of how the pandemic plays out in the region, and is unable to say with certainty when they can administer external examinations.
However, the educators across the country prepared to adapt nonetheless, and Monday, April 20 was the first day that a number of schools began full classes.
Senior education officer Aldia Gumbs-Dyer, who was contacted on Wednesday, noted that the Ministry’s checks reveal that for the secondary schools, all have started at “some level”.
Some schools have started with all of their forms, she noted, but some “do not yet have all of the forms, but they have started with their form fives.”
Dyer indicated that she does not have an exact figure for the primary schools, but that “some form is happening for the grade sixes as well,” with the other grades being worked on.
Explaining the difficulties being faced, the Senior Education Officer disclosed that there wasn’t a systematic platform for everybody, so all the teachers are not familiar with techniques of e-learning. Furthermore, access to devices, and the Internet are posing challenges as well.
One of the schools which began in full on April 20 was the St Martin’s Secondary School (SMSS), which seems to have dived right in.
Yohance Gibson revealed that when he first took on the role of acting Principal of SMSS last August he thought about moving online because CXC is moving towards online testing.
Their platform, called SMSS ELF, is an e-learning platform created specifically for SMSS. It has been up and running, and the teachers have received training on it since last October, he disclosed.
Their fifth formers have been having classes online since the Monday after school closed, but forms one to four logged on to classes this week.
“Teachers can have live classes on the ELF, so it’s not where you just post information and students read, and you hope that you read, but you have live classes and real time interaction between teachers and students,” Gibson explained.
Furthermore, the counsellor has a check in period for all classes to make sure that the students’ “psychosocial selves are doing okay.”
They have already assessed how many students have devices, and the Principal stated, “the Ministry is working hard I imagine, to get our website zero rated, meaning it will not count against your data.”
While the system experienced technical issues on the first day, since it was the first time that the entire school population and staff logged in, it was back up on the same morning.
Addressing any concerns there might be about the level of learning, Gibson indicated that based on the experience with fifth formers over the Easter vacation, he is “confident that online modality could provide just as much opportunity for learning as face to face.”
The principal noted that in light of the situation schools should look ahead because “the reality is that people may not wish to go to brick and mortar schools anymore.”
Joining SMSS in launching their full programs on Monday were the Girls’ High School (GHS) and the Thomas Saunders Secondary School(TSSS).
Principal of the co-ed TSSS, John Renton, explained that they were using the Emodo platform and that “all classes are now on board” as some had already begun last week.
He revealed that what teachers are doing is “they put in a link to Zoom, so they invite the students to a face to face session using Zoom, so it can be used in that way and it seems to be working quite well for us.”
So far they have had a “good” sign on rate to classes, he noted, but for those classes that are lagging behind, “we’ll be calling these parents to find out the reason why.”
On commenting on the progress, Renton stated, “I’m kind of proud of my teachers because at the beginning of last week, we had no online school, virtually, some teachers were doing their own thing, but at this point, all teachers are on board and we have virtually a full online school.”
The GHS is currently using different platforms; the teachers are using those that they are accustomed to, for example, Edmodo, email, Zoom, and Whatsapp, until the singular shared platform “Gsuite” is set up.
While there was reportedly some hesitation to the new territory, all classes were said to be up and running on Monday.
Infrastructure and Internet are also issues that these two schools are addressing their minds towards.
The primary schools are also applying themselves. The Principal of the Kingstown Preparatory School (KPS) Susan Abraham disclosed that some of the teachers have already gone ahead with their classes.
However, the teachers had allocated Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the platforms they were going to use, and she said were intending to start classes in full force on Thursday, April 23.
For the very young children, the school will be putting together packages for collection by parents, and teachers will be working with parents online.
“The parents must be supervising. The little ones must be under the parents’ supervision but activities will be sent to them and also based on the curriculum where we left off, we are picking up from there,” she stated.
The schools have adopted various measures, but the Ministry of Education is conducting training for schools to use Microsoft for Education 365 some time in the future.
The Supplementary Appropriation Bill passed in Parliament recently, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, makes provision for the purchase of 12,500 tablets for secondary school students and those in Grade 6, to facilitate e-learning. Last Sunday, on radio, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves announced that the project will be expanded, on a phased basis, to purchase tablets for all 30,000 students at all levels of the school system.
Futhermore, for students without Internet connection, math classes for grade six and form five students were streamed on VC3 FLOW channel 114, and online on VC3 TV’s channel and Facebook page yesterday, and will be today, Friday, April 24, starting from 9:30am.
Classes in other subject areas, for different levels will be aired starting from next week.