The Gleaner: KINGSTON, JA – Jamaica’s schools were shuttered in mid-March as a means of curtailing the spread of COVID-19, and as the date for reopening draws near, parents are doubtful that face-to-face classes will be a reality.

Jacqueline Clayton, a resident of Port Royal, told The Gleaner that it was unlikely that the phased reopening of schools would commence on October 5 as case numbers continue to soar.

Her 16-year-old daughter is a student at School of Hope and has been safeguarding herself against the virus.

“From the corona step in, she nuh come out. She says she’s not coming out to mingle,” the mother said.

Clayton intends to purchase a tablet to make remote learning more accessible for her daughter and is hoping that reliable Internet service will soon become available.

“Sometimes the Internet is out because it’s breezy out here. She missed out a whole lot on online classes last term because we pick up less service here in Port Royal,” Clayton lamented.

Juliet Barnaby is the caregiver for two of her school-age grandchildren, and though she is not able to help them manoeuvre the online space, she is grateful for the assistance older children in the community render to them.

“The salty air and the wires don’t do well, so light goes away often, and as soon as rain fall, di transformer dem buss,” she said, adding that these frequent events coupled with poor Internet connectivity make online learning very challenging.

“My grandaughter use her phone, but mi wouldn’t mind if me could get a laptop for the next one because neither me or di father can buy one now,” Barnaby said.

Former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Elaine Foster-Allen, said that if the spike in COVID cases continues at the current pace, it will be very difficult to resume face-to-face schooling in five weeks’ time.

She added that the challenges that were faced during the months of March to June will recur, “perhaps with less intensity in some places”.

“If we haven’t fixed the problems in regards of the distribution of tablets, bandwidth, and laptops or tablets for teachers, we are still going to have a problem,” she explained.

Foster-Allen explained that in some households, only one device is available for use by multiple children.

Petagaye McKoy is currently unemployed and is prepared to supervise her four-year-old son with remote learning if face-to-face classes cannot be accommodated in the upcoming term.

She said that students may not adhere to the protocols as it is not practical in some cases, and schools may become the epicentre of the virus.

“Most of the kids who are in class one or two, I think they need to repeat … . They haven’t grasped a lot,” the Port Royal resident shared.

Another parent, Anika Hughes, said that she has become more involved in the education of her three-year-old son, who thrives on face-to-face instruction.

“I get flashcards, write down sight words and we work on them. I’m also teaching him to spell and call his name. I have to keep him active so he doesn’t go backwards,” Hughes said.

She found support in Foster-Allen, who asserted that online learning for early childhood students is only partially feasible.

“Sometimes you don’t get the personal interaction that you need between teacher and child. You need that human interaction to help children understand what is reality from what is not reality,” the educator explained.

The mother of two told The Gleaner that she is more prepared for the uncertainties of the upcoming term than she was in March when schools were catapulted into online mode.

“I took out an Internet package, but it’s not working well, so I’m trying to get something else for October. I work a 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift, so in the morning, I can also supervise my son, who goes to Kingston High,” shared Hughes, who resides in Harbour View.

Petergay McKay was seen under a tree, homeschooling her son, Nicquan Miller, in Port Royal on Thursday.