Jamaica: Educational inequity in government’s COVID-19 response

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Jamaica: Educational inequity in government’s COVID-19 response
Opposition Senator, Damion Crawford
Opposition Senator, Damion Crawford

(PRESS RELEASE) – Opposition Senator, Damion Crawford, is recommending additional measures to ensure all Jamaican students have equal access to education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There isn’t any equity in how we have approached access to education during the COVID-19 crisis,” says Sen. Crawford.

Sen. Crawford has suggested pausing the current school term with a summer resumption; better collaboration with telecommunications companies to ensure students can access learning platforms free of cost; and ensuring students who wish to delay sitting CXC exams until January, can do so without penalty.

“The government, in my opinion, should declare ‘summer holidays’ for now and resume school in the summer if the crisis abates. As it stands, the school term cannot continue in this way, because we are leaving many of our students behind.”

“Many of our homeschool students don’t have the variables necessary to make a reasonable homeschool experience, for example, a capable parent able to help at home. So this method of sending homework to the child via email, Zoom or Whatsapp, doesn’t change the situation of the child if the parent is incapable of helping. But we are now suggesting that all Jamaican households have equal competence to help their children at home,” says Sen. Crawford.

The Senator also highlights his previous “Mommy and Me” proposal during the April 2019 elections in East Portland. If implemented, PEP teachers would be paid to help facilitate daily lessons for parents who needed extra help tutoring their children after school.

“If we are going to do homeschool, we have to homeschool the parents too. If we aren’t thinking that way, then it won’t work,” says Sen. Crawford.

Sen. Crawford also emphasizes the need for better access to data and internet services, particularly in rural areas.

“The second variable that’s not available to all students is access to the internet. There are areas that don’t pick up the internet well, and for some households, the cost of the internet surpasses what they get for their salaries.”

Sen. Crawford says, “When I did the research into Zoom, an hour to access and use the platform for lessons uses 1 GB of data. If you’re going to do three hours of lessons, that’s 3GB of data and it costs approximately $2000 prepaid. That’s just one day. To facilitate a Zoom lesson on your phone for $2000 per day, that’s $10 000 per week. How many people can afford that?”

The Senator recommends a more cohesive partnership between the government and telecommunications companies, where a lump sum is paid to ensure students and parents get access to video conference platforms including Zoom free of cost.

“The fact is, we can’t have schools in session and leave half the population behind, when they’re going to take the same examination. All we’re doing is setting students up not to get into their preferred schools. That is inequity.”

Sen. Crawford also proposes more foresight and planning for the upcoming CXC examinations.

“The government should talk with the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) and say, ‘our students must be able to choose to defer taking CXC until January if they do not feel ready’. Additionally, they should be having conversations with local universities to ensure those who choose to sit exams in January are granted entry at that point.”

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