TABLETS, PLEASE! - Lack of digital devices keeps children offline

September 21, 2021
Children in Kent Village, St Catherine, catch up on some lessons while in their community last week.
Children in Kent Village, St Catherine, catch up on some lessons while in their community last week.

It was close to midday on Friday and many children across the island were getting ready to log off of their devices in order to dash to the kitchen for lunch. However, this was not the case in a section of Kent Village, St Catherine. Some of the community's children have not logged on to a device in order to access education online since COVID-19 arrived on Jamaica's shores in March 2020.

Lulalee, a grandmother, said that some of the children have been to school for only two weeks since the pandemic. That time, she said, represented the period for which face-to-face learning resumed briefly after teaching and learning transitioned online.

In the case of her grandchildren, Lulalee said that the absence of digital devices for online learning has worked against them.

"Dem nuh have nuh tablet or nothing, so dem nuh really deh a school right now," Lulalee told THE STAR. "One a dem did have one, but di wull a dem use it till it mash up."

Education Minister Fayval Williams said in Parliament last week that the Government has distributed approximately 125,000 tablets and laptops to teachers and students since the pandemic. She, however, conceded that many students are yet to receive devices.

In Kent Village last Friday, one resident, who declined to give her name, said her children have not been logging on for online lessons.

"We nuh really have it, so me try teach them wah one maths and thing; me can only do so much," the parent said.

From time to time, children flip though their books in a bid to ensure the gaping learning gap does not get even wider.

Member of Parliament for St Catherine East Central, Natalie Neita-Garvey, told THE STAR that the lack of digital devices is widespread in many communities in Jamaica.

"I am very aware of a number of these communities, and COVID has really taken a toll on our educational system. In my own opinion, I believe the Government could have done better in terms of how it went about securing devices for our people," Neita-Garvey said.

Williams told Parliament last week that procurement issues are holding up the delivery of the tablets. She said the devices could be in the country by next month.

Neita-Garvey said she has been trying to get more tablets for the children in her constituency.

"In Kent Village, the issue is that they don't have devices and I have no way getting devices to provide for all of these students. We have been able to get some, but there are many more who need help. The government has a responsibility. It's not the responsibility of the individual member of parliament to be able to say, okay, I'm going to beg 10 more tablets. There needs to be a better plan than that," Neita-Garvey said.

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