Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) President Belinda Wilson said yesterday she is worried that many Bahamians who’ve been out of work may not be able to afford to equip their children with the necessary tools for virtual learning.
“I am very concerned that parents will not have the funds to purchase laptops, tablets and other devices for their children,” Wilson said.
Both private and public schools on New Providence, Abaco and Eleuthera will reopen for virtual learning on October 5, Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd said.
Schools on all other islands, including Grand Bahama, will open for face-to-face instruction.
Marissa Wallace, 33, a mother of three, said the upcoming school year has brought about a number of concerns due to her status of unemployment.
“I have no problem dedicating the time needed for my children with the virtual learning,” she said.
“I haven’t been working. I’m not sure how they expect some parents to buy certain items with no money coming in.”
She added, “Even though it’s VAT-free, you don’t have the money to buy the stuff.
“It’s no way you can go to a neighbor or friend. Everyone is going through their struggle. I want to know if they are making other provisions.”
Marlaina Pinder, 41, a mother of three, shared a similar frustration.
“I haven’t worked from March,” she said.
“The government is coming up with brilliant ideas for the education system, but they need to help. I don’t know how my kids are going back to school. I have no clue. If you aren’t working, how are you going to purchase supplies?”
Wilson said parents are faced with tough decisions during the pandemic.
“Their priority at this time is food and shelter and making sure they can pay their bills,” she said.
“I know it’s very important to purchase the device for your child and you have to decide between buying food and buying a tablet or device. I believe the parent will choose to buy food for their children and family.”
When he spoke on Monday, Lloyd noted the worsening financial situation of many families across The Bahamas as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said his ministry is doing its best to ensure that students are not disadvantaged when classes resume.
“With this in mind, the ministry is committed to assisting our students who are already enrolled in the National School Lunch Program, with obtaining devices to enable their online instruction,” the minister said.
“The ministry has already distributed 9,000 tablets to students in grades [kindergarten] through three and seeks to assist more students in the lower primary level.
“Digital devices such as tablets, laptops and projectors have been distributed to pre-school and lower primary schools on New Providence, Eleuthera, Exuma, Long Island, Cat Island, South Andros, Acklins, San Salvador, Mayaguana and East Grand Bahama.”
When asked yesterday if the government should make additional provisions for less fortunate families, Wilson said, “Wi-Fi or internet activity is paramount, but when you look at the unemployment rate and the lower socioeconomic communities, some houses do not even have electricity,” she said.
“There are thousands of consumers whose electricity are off. It’s a very serious situation that takes a lot of discussion and creativity and ideas coming from all aspects of society. Not just the government, but the union and other stakeholders.”
She noted a number of other challenges concerning the new school year, claiming that most of her questions have fallen on deaf ears.
“I’ve written letters asking about timetables and scheduling, training and professional development, laptops for teachers, travel for teachers from one island to the other,” she said.
Wilson also included that she had “no new information” regarding the new date for national examinations.
Lloyd announced that national examinations will resume on September 14.
The exams were interrupted due to a second wave of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.