Dr. Fraser- Point of View
May 8, 2020

Our collective responsibility

The current crisis presents serious challenges, some of which naturally were not contemplated.  It cannot be business as usual, because much is new and the future uncertain. Even the present situation is testing.  The answers do not lie in the cranium of any one or two individuals. Ours have to be a collective one where a call should be made to all serious and concerned individuals with the necessary skills. Our human resource capacity is too limited to allow some of it to lie idle. All hands must be on deck. I say this bearing in mind what is happening in some of our CARICOM countries. In Barbados, PM Mottley has engaged Owen Arthur, with whom she has had serious issues in the past and Christopher Sinckler, Finance Minister of the last government, to be part of an Economic task force. In Jamaica, with an eye to the future of tourism, a multi-disciplined task force is being set up drawing on the country’s human resources.

 Everyone has to be involved at some level. Let us take education. The last issue of SEARCHLIGHT carried a news piece with the Ministry of Education complaining about teachers not adhering to the new teaching protocols. This, on the face of it, appears to be a legitimate concern, but the word from a number of teachers is that they are not aware of any new teaching protocols. I am confused by this. The current situation demanded some adjustments and one of these is the introduction of on-line teaching. Judging from a distance, I am under the impression that the belief was that schools would reopen soon in their traditional manner, after the initial reluctance to close early and hence a delay in planning.

On-line teaching is the way to go in the current situation, but this cannot be done in an ad hoc manner. Most importantly it needs the involvement of teachers and parents/guardians. To what extent are they involved? On-line teaching will be new to the system, hence the need to thread carefully. There are a number of teachers who have graduated from the UWI Open Campus who will be au fait with some aspects of on-line learning, but there is a difference between accessing it as a student and being able to use it as a format for teaching, especially given the age of the students. The UWI Open Campus was built around this on-line facility and there are obviously resources and experience there. I am not sure if they were contacted about offering whatever assistance might be available. But how were the new teaching protocols arrived at? It beats me that they could have been produced without the knowledge and wide involvement of teachers. So, something is missing here.

What of parents? What research was done to find out the devices available in the homes of students? I suspect that IPADS, laptops, desktops and mobile phones would all be part of what the students are expected to use. What of their capacity? What of the reliability, stability and accessibility of internet service? Are the devices at homes available only to the student or are they also being used by other members of the family? What is the working schedule? I hope that the exercise was designed knowing that on-line teaching and learning is not simply to transfer the classroom to the home, that is, attempting to replicate the chalk and black board framework. A lot of creativity has to be involved; students’ attention span have to be considered. In fact, there is much at stake. Without attention to all of these, students and teachers could become totally frustrated. Are parents expected to be there to monitor their children? What of those who do not have the required hardware and software?

Education is obviously not the only issue at stake? Have we considered that tourism will not be the same after? How do we stand with food security, given that the hurricane season is weeks away? There are a lot of issues and all hands need to be on board at this time, particularly medical and health personnel. 

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian