(Excerpts of the Honourable Terrance Ollivierre’s Budget Presentation)
“Education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world,” opined Nelson Mandella. If education is to be used as a weapon, what is the ammunition needed to help us navigate successfully through the period and mitigate against the impact of the pandemic on education and safe guard the future of the teaching and learning process?
Further, what has the national budget of 2021 put forward to reflect the urgency of the moment in order to secure a better future for all? The most important point is that we have given meaning to the slogan, ‘no child can be left behind’.
Some educators and stakeholders have called for the curricula to be re-imagined within this age of technological advancement; with the view to allow students to thrive in this ever evolving world and to successfully mitigate against the challenges of the covid-19 pandemic. In fact, the theme for the International Day of Education celebrated on the 25thJanuary, ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for COVID-19 generation’ gave credence to the need to utilize our creativity, knowledge and skills to effectuate meaningful change in the teaching learning environment to achieve quality education.
We in the New Democratic Party have recognized the need for such positive change and have stated that our aim is to cater to the re-engineering of the education sector to cater for the needs of all in a technological environment. There is no doubt that the pandemic has exposed the flaws and weaknesses in the government’s efforts to provide an effective education system and a sound learning environment. Undoubtedly, we are experiencing many problems due to the failure to digitize the education system. Inevitably, we are behind and now trying to catch up. Since March 2020, the country’s educational institutions have moved from face to face teacher student interactions to on-line or E-learning.
However, due to the poor implementation of E-learning and the fact that the education system is not adequately digitized, many teachers and students are faced with many challenges. These problems are further exacerbated because of the gaps between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. Without a doubt, the government along with the Ministry of Education’s slow response to implement measures to successfully overcome these challenges, has evidently contributed to the failures we are now facing.
We cannot afford to continue with this approach; as there is the need to stop making the same mistakes over and over and expect different results. Most often, we have been hearing of promises to better education opportunities for all, yet teachers are left without assistance to build and provide the platforms needed to reach students; students are left without the necessary supervision to adopt to this new mode of learning; some teachers lack the training to adapt to the new innovative approaches to pedagogy; the percentage of students through the school system either lack the learning devices, WiFi connectivity or electricity for E-learning to be successful and the provision of adequate WiFi connectivity throughout the country to cater to the needs of all is not available.
Certainly, we can say that the preparedness of teachers and students to adequately and meaningfully engaged in on-line learning lack the access, participation and engagement necessary to be successfully engaged in quality education. Yes, indeed, too many children are left behind.
We have heard the cries of many stakeholders including that of the teachers’ union, teachers and parents as to the gaps in access to resources in technology and the glaring gaps between the ‘haves’ and ‘haves-nots.’ Definitely, this is a big hindrance to the teaching learning process; hence, we must ensure that the weapon of power and the ammunition that is needed to excel is available to everyone.
Learning devices for students: Kindergarten to Grade 5 are in urgent need for such devices to interact and interface with teachers. Too many of our students remain isolated and disconnected from their fundamental human rights to education.
Reliable WiFi: The internet connectivity is good in some areas to facilitate on-line teaching and learning but is weak in most areas.
Electricity connection: This affects the poor and vulnerable. There are some who may have also lost their jobs during this COVID-19 pandemic who face such reality. How can we change the fortune of the country and the world if we do not take care of the poor and working class?
Adequate and continuous training for teachers: It is alarming that the teachers’ union has stated that fifty percent of our teachers have not been trained in Microsoft Teams.
Educational institution are not properly outfitted and equipped for physical and virtual learning: therefore, reliable internet, computers and other technological resources are needed to aid the teaching-learning process.
Online platforms to take our educational institutions ahead of the curve are needed: access to nutritious meals for those on the School Feeding Programme while schools remain closed and access to E-testing for those sitting exams, especially external exams, CAPE, CSEC CCSLC.
It must be noted that CXC had reported on 30th January, 2017 that the introduction of E-testing was successfully introduced in the seven (7) countries of the region. The regional organization that has responsibility for exams, had further stated that in June 2017, nine countries (9) had introduced E-testing to their students. Indeed, most Caribbean territories have moved ahead while St. Vincent and the Grenadines is still lagging behind playing catch-up.
We must develop a skill and certification agenda or program to have each child learn a skill, whether music, sport, technology, cosmetology, massage therapy, scuba diving, entertainment and event technology as required by CXC to receive a certification in CVQ. Then we will have a modern education system that is resilient, flexible, and innovative; that will cope with the present COVID-19 challenges and prepare for future crisis.