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TEACHERS in the hinterland and rural communities have welcomed the reopening of schools to prepare pupils and students for the upcoming NGSA and CSEC Examinations respectively, citing that the Internet disparities in these areas have hindered learning and preparation tremendously.
“Meeting before the exams in a formal setting is good for the students, and I’m positive that they will be able to practise more, add to what they have already learnt, and seek answers to questions they may have not been able to answer during the three months they’ve been away from school,” one teacher in Aishalton, Region Nine (UpperTakutu-Upper Essequibo) said.
The lockdown measures enforced to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 resulted in schools across Guyana being shut. Teaching during this period of lockdown has been fraught with unique challenges arising from the novel situation. In the hinterland communities, those unique challenges were exacerbated by the Internet and technology disparities in the region.
The Aishalton teacher explained that her students do not all hail from the same community, but rather a collection of surrounding yet distant communities. While these communities have been outfitted with Wi-Fi through the government’s e-Governance platform, many of the students do not have ‘smart’ devices such as laptops or tablets of their own.
This teacher attempted to distribute booklets with practice questions for the CSEC examinations so that they could still have a way of revising while at home. However, since she did not have enough booklets for her 25 students, she allowed them to use the booklets, and when they were done, she lent these to another group of students.
She also created a WhatsApp group with those students who have cellphones to work on questions and revise. It is not unbelievable that the students did not reply with much alacrity, as related by Miss Sandy.
Adequate cleaning and sanitation were done in the school, according to Sandy, which was very assuring to her and the parents. And her 25 students were split into two classrooms, effectively practising social distancing. Her only contention was that during the short lunch break they were given, and after school, the students hastened to ‘group up’ and ‘catch up’ on their time apart.
Over in Sandy Creek, also in Region Nine, another teacher, Mark (not real name) also related that there has been no teaching since the school closed in March. He explained that students who lived in the dormitory and teachers, returned to their respective communities then; these communities are about 16 to 45 miles away.
“I do feel that, on one hand, it is desirable for students to return to school mainly because these students have not had adequate tutoring due to the lack of e-learning technologies,” Mark said, also highlighting that there are few members in these hinterland communities who would be able to assist students to prepare for the CSEC examinations.
However, he did raise some concerns that effective sanitisation was not done at his school and many of the teachers were unaware of the new modus operandi they would have to adopt. Mark also noted health concerns shared by other teachers for students are commuting from distant communities, the coronavirus, currently devastating neighbouring Brazil.
At Skeldon, in Berbice, teachers were not as enthusiastic about the reopening of schools. One teacher, Sonita (not real name) indicated that she and some other teachers stayed away from school when it reopened on June 15, over health concerns.
This teacher, however, acknowledged that there are not sufficient technologies within the community and within other rural Berbice areas for students to learn remotely. She shared her belief that the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) should be more amenable, given that not all communities and students would be equipped for examinations at this time.
On the coastland, the turnout of students and teachers at both the primary and secondary levels has been encouraging, as many were receptive to the reopening of schools. CSEC has been set for July 13 – August 4, 2020; CAPE for July 13 – July 31, 2020; and NGSA for July 1 and 2, 2020.