COUVA South MP Rudranath Indarsingh bitterly complained that after a year of the covid19 pandemic some pupils have been left behind by their inability to access online learning due to a lack of electronic devices and/or internet connectivity. He was part of Parliament's Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Social Services and Public Administration chaired by Paul Richards which on Wednesday held a virtual sitting to meet the Telecommunication Authority of TT (TATT), Digicel, Flow and TSTT/BMobile.
Indarsingh lamented that 35,000 pupils have no devices, while an unnamed school principal had complained that the State had not supplied internet access at her school even as she asked the MP to find a private service provider.
"Thirteen months into the pandemic while we are hearing all the mantras of leaving no child behind, children are indeed being left behind, and they are in a state of wilderness
at the moment in terms of their educational development."
JSC member Esmond Forde interjected to suggest that since most pupils were now at home not school, the bigger issue was their individual access, as he called for a focus on facilities such as community centres.
Ministry of Public Administration permanent secretary Claudelle McKellar said 13 new access centres will be built this fiscal year. The locations of these include the Beetham Estate, La Pastora, La Horquetta, Lopinot, Toco, Roxborough, Moruga and Fifth Company. He said several previously built access centres at places including Todd's Road, Guayaguayare and Marac were now fully functional.
Regarding residential access, TSTT/BMobile CEO Lisa Agard said in terms of its 1.4 million population, TT has a 95 per cent broadband coverage. However she said only 84 per cent of households have internet access, amounting to 401,000 homes. Acknowledging a gap between the provision and the take-up of internet access, she attributed this to "an affordability issue."
Flow country manager Kurleigh Prescod said in the past year Internet usage grew dramatically by 40 per cent, necessitating his company to spend to increase the quality of the feed to individual customers (at no additional cost to clients) from 50 to 100 megabytes.
Richards asked the service providers about any measures to prevent children accessing inappropriate content online.
Agard said, "We can't be the internet police in the absence of a clear legislative mandate coming from the Parliament of TT."
TSTT/BMobile chief technical officer Kenrick Garcia said the company has the technology to apply filters to the internet feeds but it acts across the whole household and many adults do not like this. "They will not be able to access all their applications. It protects the child but the parent won't be able to go to the sites they want."