With the awareness that some students do not have access to the internet or adequate devices, Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd said his ministry is exploring ways to reduce or eliminate these issues of access to education in the country during a time when teachers and students are physically separated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Understanding that education must still continue, the Ministry of Education’s virtual learning site went live on March 23, with content for students of all grade levels. With a large number of public school students not having a device or internet capability, but who still have to continue learning, Lloyd said in the House of Assembly on Monday, April 6, that Cable Bahamas would dedicate two channels (295 and 296) for the “live” broadcasting of educational content by the Ministry of Education.
The dedicated channels he said are to go live as of Wednesday, April 15.
The broadcast from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. will cover programming in three main areas – instructional (live and recorded lessons streamed from the virtual school); informational; and character building.
Channel 296 will be for students studying for their Bahamas Junior Certificate (BJC) and Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) only; channel 297 will cover content for all other grades.
“Though teachers and students are away from campus, learning and teaching must continue. End-of-term exams have to be calculated. National exams have to be refashioned. Schools all over the world are scrambling to adjust to this new environment,” said Lloyd. “This is not a vacation. The school system has already lost precious instructional and learning time due to Hurricane Dorian. We cannot afford a single day further in lost educational time.”
Students have been out of the classroom since Monday, March 16, after The Bahamas confirmed its first case of COVID-19. There are now 40 confirmed cases and eight deaths in-country as of Monday, April 13. Worldwide, the coronavirus has infected 1,500,830 with 87,706 deaths.
“There still remains an urgency for educators across The Bahamas to deliver online lessons to all students from kindergarten through 12th grade,” said Lloyd in his address.
Lloyd said in 2019, a collaboration with BTC, Cable & Wireless Foundation and Sandals Foundation was offered to assist his ministry by providing three months of dedicated remote, online classes for public school students displaced by Hurricane Dorian. He added that throughout the period of engagement, students and teachers engaged in a virtual classroom on weekends on the One-on-One virtual platform to take them through much-needed lessons on the five core high school subjects, including mathematics and language for the BJC and BGCSE curricula.
The education minister said Cabinet would consider a proposal to supplement the instruction being offered via its own virtual schooling initiative by providing remote instructions via the One-on-One platform for all students in grades K-12 in the public and private sectors from April through June.
“COVID-19 has created a tremendous learning gap that, if not addressed, can result in a potentially irrecoverable deficit for students in the Bahamian education sector,” said Lloyd.
“Since the COVID-19 crisis, anecdotal evidence affirms that many private institutions are struggling with the provision of online classes, particularly for their students who have no internet connectivity. In this regard, the One-on-One proposal for facilitating prerecorded lessons via Flo TV makes this proposal particularly critical for the Ministry of Education. This arrangement would enable all teachers in The Bahamas in public and private schools to access live, remote classes with their students for a period of two-and-a-half months, commencing on April 20, while exercising social distancing in the context of the COVID-10 pandemic.”
Students can access the virtual learning portal by registering at www.ministryofeducationbahamas.com. Registered students receive learning schedules, so they know the times for their classes.
“The virtual learning space mirrors exactly what the students would be doing in a regular school day – two periods in the morning, a break; two more periods, then lunch.”
Lloyd said the problem, and for which they do not have the data, is how many students in their system do not have internet access. Or if they do, do not have a device with which to access the internet, and thus continue with their learning.
“We are advised anecdotally, that there is between 10 to 20 percent of our students who may be so deprived. If so, we are looking at 10,000 students in the public sector alone.”
He said it’s a problem that is being addressed, and that the ministry is now working with providers – Aliv and BTC, in designing a platform where internet-deprived students, or device-challenged students, get devices, and alternatively, view their lessons on the two dedicated Cable channels that will be populated with the appropriate content for their use.