With the countdown to the virtual reopening of public schools drawing to an end, one grandmother says the mad dash is on.
Elizabeth “Liz” Francis had no idea when schools shuttered on March 13 that it would have been the last day her three grandchildren who live with her would step into a classroom. She also did not realize it would be their last day of formal education for the academic year. With no internet connectivity at their home, the children were not able to join in on the Ministry of Education’s virtual learning platform. The trio has been out of the learning environment for five months.
Weeks out to the start of the new school year for public schools – which begins virtually on Monday, October 5 with 100 percent online learning if circumstances permit – preparations for the children’s return to school have yet to begin.
Uniforms have not been purchased. They have not gotten books. Mandatory electronic devices still need to be sourced for each child, but will prove useless if they still do not have internet at their Pinewood Gardens home. Francis says she has not had an active internet account at her house in five years.
The Ministry of Education’s (MoE) recommended options for the virtual learning platform include a tablet, Notebook, laptop or Netbook.
Francis has also not yet registered the children for school.
Online registration for public schools ended July 31; after which students were considered late applicants, and as such, the preferred school may not be able to accommodate the student, who could then be redirected to another school.
Francis, 61, guardian for Dexter Cambridge, 13; Lanico Moxey, eight; and Lanai Moxey, seven, says preparing to send her grandchildren back to school virtually is “overwhelming” and getting them prepared for the new academic year will be last-minute, owing to the lack of financial resources.
“We will just have to wing it and try to do everything last minute – that’s how it looks like to me. It looks like it’s going to be a last-minute dash. Usually, by now, they would already have uniforms, we would be working on their books and stuff like that, everything would already be in place, but right now, nothing is ready. I’ve not even registered them yet.”
As for electronic devices for the three children to participate in full, day classes, she says they currently have one working tablet at the moment. It is not certain if the tablet meets MoE specifications and recommendations. She says she and the children’s mother, who lives on Grand Bahama, have begun researching the cost of the devices online.
“We’re thinking of a Notebook or laptop for Dexter since he’s a teenager and tablets for the children. But that’s not the biggest problem. It’s been such a financial challenge – so we’re looking into trying to get internet connection,” says Francis who is currently unemployed.
She hopes to have her internet account reactivated before school reopens so that her grandchildren will be able to engage in online learning.
“Right now, the only way they get on the internet is if I put data on my phone and give them the hotspot, but they could wipe my data out in like two days, so definitely I’m hoping that we reactivate the internet account,” says Francis.
She has no idea how much it will cost to get the children kitted out for the 2020/2021 academic year, but she thinks the price tag will be “astronomical”.
“I haven’t completed a budget because we were just now researching the cost of the devices online. But the biggest challenge for me other than purchasing those devices for them, and the internet, is keeping them fed. I know that God will make a way. I’m a woman of faith,” says the grandmother.
While the brunt of the expense of getting the children prepared for school falls to her, she says it will be a team effort.
“My daughter and I get some help from other relatives, and their dads chip in, sometimes,” she says.
The younger children’s dad is on Bimini and currently not working. The eldest child’s father, she says, is gravely ill.
“The first step is to have the internet account reactivated and then there’s just so much that we need to do with setting them up and making sure that the environment is learning-conducive.”
With three children, she knows she will need three separate learning spaces because they all have to be in classes at the same time.
Francis says that, too, will present a challenge because it’s just her to work with the children.
“I’m thinking about lessons, and then the assignments they will have, so I can see right now; my entire day might just be going from one to the next with their classwork as well as assignments that have to be done – projects and whatever have you.”
The grandmother says keeping them focused during virtual learning will also pose a challenge for her as she will have to keep a keen eye on them opting out to play games on the devices.
“It’s just so much to consider with the virtual school. And their attention span is a big problem, their attention span is so short. They get distracted so easily.”
Going into the new school year, she says she knows she’s going to have to become more technology and internet savvy to really help her grandchildren and be able to participate and guide them in their studies.
“It’s an overwhelming thought.”
Francis is also concerned about the information the children may have lost over the last five months.
“Since they’ve been home and confined, I noticed they have lost a lot of what they had, so there is going to have to be a lot of revision in order to bring them back to where they were before the COVID-19 pandemic started. They seem to have forgotten some things, so we will have to begin revising. I told them it’s not going to be just watching videos and playing games every day.”
Prior to schools shuttering to face-to-face learning after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in-country on March 15, Francis says, her grandchildren had always lagged in reading. During the months they received no formalized education, she says, she focused on their reading and numbers. She also encouraged them to complete assignments from their workbooks. As an incentive for them to have time on their tablet, she encouraged them to earn the right by reading a book first.
With COVID-19-confirmed cases soaring, Francis says she also considered homeschooling her grandchildren, especially with her youngest grandchild dyslexic and needing extra attention with her classes.
She says she was hoping the kids would not be going back into the classroom for the new school year.
“Honestly, I was afraid. I was terrified because I’ve seen how children play at school playgrounds; and in a COVID pandemic world, I was really afraid to take them back to school for health reasons. I think I would be happier with the virtual school than classroom right now, until we get past the numbers that I’m seeing. I’m really terrified for the children.”
There are more than 2,900 cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.