National Review

Unequal field

With virtual school starting in several days, children unprepared for online lessons

When schools open virtually come Monday, Jewel Cartwright, a grandmother who has lived on Fowler Street, off East Street, for more than 60 years, has no idea how her three grandchildren she is raising will be able to log on for their lessons.

They have no laptops, desktops or tablets. And they have no internet, although their small dilapidated home with a leaky roof does have electricity.

Cartwright, the daughter of the late retired nurse Persis Rodgers, MBE, is raising her daughter’s three children – two girls, 13 and 11, and one boy, eight – who quietly looked on as their grandmother spoke with National Review under a large guinep tree in their mud-filled yard with a rowdy dog and several roosters marching about.

“The most challenge right now is trying to get them sorted out for school,” Cartwright said.

“It would have been alright if it wasn’t this internet thing because with them just going to school on a regular basis, I can handle that because I have been dealing with that for years, so that ain’t no problem. But now with this new system you have to get these things and if you don’t get these things, it’s another problem.”

Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd advised on August 31 that schools on New Providence, Abaco and Eleuthera are to resume classes remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic as of October 5. Schools on Grand Bahama and all other islands will open face to face.

“As parents would have purchased books and other instructional materials for their children in the past year, this year, we encourage them to purchase a device instead, as a priority,” Lloyd said.

“The ministry has partnered with local service providers and vendors to ensure that parents are able to purchase devices at a reasonable cost.”

The suggested devices are tablets, notebooks/laptops and netbooks.

While many parents are struggling with the idea of homeschooling, some of them are not facing the basic challenge of having internet connection and a device for each child to log on for classes.

Many others like Cartwright are confronting a more critical dilemma of not having access to lessons through internet connection and devices.

During his address last month, the education minister acknowledged such challenges.

“The Ministry of Education has for some time emphasized its commitment to the United Nations goal of providing quality and inclusive education for all,” Lloyd said.

“It is clear that there are some students who will not have access to devices and internet connectivity, including some who have no electricity in their homes. 

“Therefore, the ministry will be providing for those students resource instructional packages to be collected from the respective schools by their parents, which will in turn be returned to schools for grading by teachers, on a weekly basis.”

Squalid

Cartwright said she does not want her grandchildren to get left behind.

Like parents and guardians in many countries, she never imagined she would have to figure out how to homeschool her grandchildren, who were enrolled at three different schools when the pandemic forced the closure of schools back in March.

That means the children were stuck at home for six months with no lessons.

To be clear, this Fowler Street house is their residence, but the grandmother, who said she spent much of her working life employed at Persis Rodgers Home for the Aged, wishes she could give the children a better life.

The children’s great-grandmother, Persis Rodgers, was a long-time resident at that Fowler Street house.

She was also a well-known and strong advocate for the elderly and eventually resided at the home for the aged, which she founded on Hawthorne Road. 

As we wondered about the difficulties of having children live in such squalid conditions, Cartwright, who said she is on pension and gets a monthly food allowance from the Department of Social Services, told us she is doing her best and is particularly proud of her smart and well-mannered grandchildren.

Speaking with her eldest granddaughter, it was easy for us to see why Cartwright is so proud.

As we stood on the small porch near an old stuffed animal hanging from the outside wall, we spoke with the teen who was sitting inside near the door.

Her eyes appeared hopeful, her disposition quiet, as she told us she wants to be an architect one day.

“I find it interesting,” she said.

The girl is about to enter ninth grade and told us she is excited. 

We ask her her needs: a laptop. Some books to take notes. Pens. Pencils.

She said she already has fabric for her uniform to be made, although it’s not clear when face-to-face classes will start again.

Ordinarily, we would have no problem being inside for these kinds of discussions, but the pandemic dictates a high degree of caution.

Our photographer ventured inside to further document the state of the house, which Cartwright readily acknowledged is in a deplorable state.

The walls of the home are cracked in many areas and the green trim and barely white outside wall has clearly not been refreshed in decades. 

Cartwright told us the stuffed animal — a large, colorful, dirt-crusted bear with a melancholy expression dangling over worn windows — is a marker for when people are trying to locate the house. 

She said it has been there for decades.

“They always know it’s the house with the stuffed animal,” Cartwright said.

The house has a tin roof that leaks, Cartwright told us. It is covered with tarp she said she got from a nearby Urban Renewal office.

Cartwright said she has been trying for years to get help to fix up the house, but she said the office has been turning her around.

We asked her eldest granddaughter, the future architect, if she likes living there: “I grew up here, so yes,” she responded.

Her grandmother explained to us, “I teach them how to learn to do without from small, so as they grow they can know, not because you see another child out there has this, that you must have it. Your parents can’t afford it, so you have to learn to do without it.”

Appeal

Dezree Taylor, a sixth-grade teacher at Stephen Dillet Primary School on Wulff Road, joined us in the yard that day.

Taylor admitted to National Review she was surprised to see how the children are living.

“The kid is in my class and A1 student, good attitude, doing her work, comes to school clean. I would never have known,” she said.

Cartwright said when schools are open, she washes her grandchildren’s uniforms every Friday and presses them every Sunday.

She said when she has no water supply, she gets water from a public pump to ensure the children are clean.

When she needs help, Cartwright said, she is not too proud to ask.

“Help the people who need help,” she said.

“Sometimes you may see a person out there and you might be surprised the background they come from or where they live. Ain’t everything that glitters is gold and if you need help, don’t be ashamed to say you need help. 

“I need help and I ain’t ashamed to ask. I just need help to get the children sorted out for school. I don’t have internet. If you don’t ask, people would never know your problem. I ain’t stuck up and I ain’t afraid to ask.”

Taylor is often blown away when she sees where some students live, and how some excel in spite of.

“I’m seeing it. I realize, when they come to your class, you give them a safe domain, you make them feel loved. You make them feel as if they’re at home, and so they don’t exhibit, they don’t ever let you know this part of them,” she said.

But Taylor worries that in this age of virtual schooling, some children will get left behind.

“My appeal is really to the ministry,” she said.

“We are now in this virtual era, but I really want people to understand that the [playing] field is not equal all around, and so when we start talking about Zooming in and doing school virtually, we must consider that there are a great number of children that are going to be at a disadvantage and I don’t know exactly when the tablets are going to come, but when the tablets come, what about the children that don’t have internet?

“What about the children that live in places where they sometimes can’t even get food? My appeal really is for the ministry and really for the government to look at all the children.

“I believe that we shouldn’t leave any children behind, and like Ms. Jewel said, sometimes we see children, but if we don’t come to where they live, if we don’t know their whole story, we can leave them behind.”

Taylor spearheads Journeys International, a program that caters to developing well-rounded children from underprivileged communities.

“Stories like these, we need to get out,” she said.

Cartwright, meanwhile, said she wants to raise her grandchildren to become successful and independent adults.

“I envision for them to have a better life than what I had, what their parents had. Only thing I ask of them is to bring me a diploma. Once they can bring me a diploma, then I know my work was not in vain,” she said.

“Once they get that high school education, they can go anywhere. I also teach them to have respect and manners for people older than themselves.”

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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