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Daly Bread: Online school issues condemning T&T students to a learning death sentence

Partisan political delusion invariably masks reality. Sometimes, persisting in the delusion means denying a reality that is capable of irretrievably damaging real people. 

The current  state of online learning contains crippling elements of delusion, so fundamental that it is possible that many children have been condemned to a learning death sentence.

Photo: Minister of Education Nyan Gadsby-Dolly.
(via Newsday)

Following recent nightly television interviews with salt of the earth citizens and their youngsters, I set out to see what modest contribution might be made in one particular rural village in terms of equipment—beyond an uninformed handing out of devices that might not actually provide any meaningful access to the Ministry of Education’s School Learning Management System (LMS) platform, or to any other means of electronic learning. 

I came face to face with the reality that a significant number of children do not have access to online learning.

The delusions are contained in the various boasts emanating from the Ministry of Education, which has the misguided belief that announcement equals satisfactory execution of a policy. In April this year, when the LMS was announced at a media conference we were told that ‘things are in place so that no child would be left behind’.

For the announcement that no child would be left behind to be a reality, it was obvious then—and now more devastatingly so—that the LMS was only one component in the online learning process. 

Photo: No Wifi…

Other threshold components of access to online learning were a supply of electricity, a device with the capacity to log in and stay logged in, and sufficient telecommunications transmission capacity to transfer data to all those logged in, particularly at peak times, without ‘buffering’ interruptions and downtime.

If the transmission capacity (bandwidth) is lacking quality and speed, poor transmission is the inevitable result. Much of the school work is in video form.  Data requires significantly more capacity than the transmission of words.

It follows therefore that the success of online learning could not and ought not to be touted without regard to the state of Trinidad and Tobago’s utilities and network infrastructure.

If a student is to access the LMS platform and to make use of the content there, step one requires logging in to the ministry’s electronic address, but the student may fail at the first step. How do you log in without an electricity supply and without owning or having access to a suitable device?

Next, what if the device does not meet the specifications required to make or maintain a successful connection? Not every tablet cures this headache.

Photo: Is education a level playing field?

So the student might have been lucky enough to have been included in a school based or government-driven distribution of appropriate devices and to have at least ‘a hot spot’, or gain admittance to a neighbouring home or community centre with WiFi. 

Others might get to stand up by a neighbour’s gate, ‘borrowing’ some Wi-Fi.  However, students then bounce their heads against inadequate transmission capacity in their area.

During the Budget debate in September, we were told by the government that 90 per cent of the nation’s students were accessing learning online. The recent exposures on CNC3 television of the lack of online access in rural villages the length and breadth of Trinidad such as Las Cuevas, Chatham, Fishing Pond and Kernahan, as well as under-served areas in Port of Spain and the East-West Corridor, suggest otherwise.

Sharon Mangroo, chief executive officer of the Catholic Education Board, acknowledging the  generosity of donors, stated last week that connectivity is the bigger problem and referred to about 40 per cent of the children not being able to connect.

However, with reports of printed packages not always being available, desperate parents stuck in one of our several socio-economic wildernesses—well knowing that education for their children is the only way out—are still ketchin’ dey tail to find funds to provide devices.

Photo: A child engages in online learning with the support of a parent.

Deepening already pernicious inequality at the further expense of our children is a crisis way above party affiliation and ministerial pride. 

I am repeating my plea for the sake of the children that our MPs must diligently represent the people and urgently collaborate to relieve the affected children from a learning death sentence.

About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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