Although virtual classes began in March, after the Prime Minister’s stay-at-home order, it was initially meant to be a part time arrangement while the government attempted to curb the spread of the virus.
Teachers engaged their students in revision of already-covered material. However, when covid19 cases jumped drastically in August, the new Education Ministry went into overdrive, planning for teachers and students to adapt to the new virtual environment full time.
Newsday spoke to a teacher and principal of a primary school along the East-West corridor on Friday, who shared their feelings on the first week of classes and orientation for the new school term. Both parties requested anonymity.
“Before the new academic year, teachers were engaging students online, but that was voluntary,” said the principal of the school. She said only an average of 50 to 60 per cent of the school population attended the virtual classes.
She said this was due to a lack of resources. Now that the ministry has mandated virtual schooling at all levels, they have used the time allotted by the ministry in the first two weeks of September to train the entire school, including teachers, students and parents on the chosen virtual platforms.
She said the school has an estimated population of 700 students, with 90 to 100 students at each level. The principal said the past week has been days of orientation, familiarising parents, and students to the new environment at each level.
She said the time for orientation was crucial to prepare parents for the commencement of classes on Monday, September 14 and to ensure students are ready to use the zoom and google classroom platforms.
“We had to sensitize the parents (especially) on what they need to do.” She said a major concern for parents coming out of the virtual orientation sessions was how children will use devices in the absence of a capable adult?
She said many parents told her while they are away at work, the children will be in the care of elderly grandparents, who will not be able to help in the event a student requires assistance navigating the platform.
Because of this, the principal said it was particularly important that students knew how to navigate the platforms themselves.
She also said the physical environment is very different to the virtual environment, and the techniques and approaches to learning will take some getting used to, but teachers have figured out ways to ensure the student is engaged throughout the sessions, by using a combination of resources.
“When we go online, there will be power point, videos, quizzes and other interactive-type activities,” she said, adding teachers will also make use of the traditional white board, where further explanation is required.
She said a major concern for parents continues to be access to devices such as laptops and tablets, however, there have been many people in the community who have reached out to assist.
She explained businesses in the area have offered their services by allowing students to visit and use the company’s connectivity.
The MP of the area has also assured parents free wifi and free photocopying services will be made available to them, by appointment only to avoid rushing and overcrowding.
The community council is also making the community centre in the area available for students to have their classes, again by appointment only.
While the rest of the school familiarises themselves with the new normal, the standard five class has already completed their first week in the new school term. Orientation for the class was on Monday.
The standard five teacher responsible for the students has been teaching for close to 20 years. “This is new for both teachers and students,” he said, adding everyone is trying how best they can interface with each other on the new platforms.
He said his approach to teaching on the new platforms depends on the information he is trying to get across. “Personally I try to be direct, like we're face to face. I (also) use resources such as videos on Youtube or interactive websites.”
He said he tries to get students to use these resources on their own, encouraging them to do their own research as home assignments, then he discusses the new information with the students in the following class.
“With the normal face to face approach you prepare the lesson for the day, but you would hardly have video resources. Usually we use more tangible resources.”
He said some of the videos may lend itself to the kind of interaction students are used to, but for the most part, the videos are used to help them understand what is going on.
“The situation has to be worked out daily. Sometimes you work out something in the morning session and it doesn't work and you have to work it out for the evening session. It is a learning process for both teachers and students.
“The ministry set guidelines but that is all they are. It is how the teacher uses them in the delivery of their work.”