SCHOOL is out! It’s vacation time for children… only it’s a pandemic vacation like no other. Because of the Covid-19 public health restrictions, parents can’t take the kids to the beach, their favourite food restaurants or even the cinema to relax and enjoy themselves.
Despite what looks to be a challenging long vacation, the government has indicated the signs are looking good for the return to physical schools in the new school year in September.
I spoke to a top performing student who just finished Form 1 at a high school in central Trinidad. I shall call him Josh (not his real name). Since March 2020, Josh has been attending school completely virtually. No adult person reading this has ever had this experience, so I asked Josh to share his thoughts on virtual school to give some insight into what students have been going through. Here’s what Josh had to say.
The pandemic took him and all his school mates by surprise … no one saw it coming. After closing the schools, the Ministry of Education first ran a free-to-use learning website called “School Learning Management System” or “SLMS.” On this website, he was able to find notes and there were tests that covered all topics from Primary School work to teacher training. Only when the new school year began in September 2020 did schools transition into a fully virtual classroom.
When school went fully online, classes were either synchronous (teachers and students all present virtually) or asynchronous (students would not be able to see, hear or talk to their teachers, but could post work done). Applications such as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams were used to conduct synchronous classes. Platforms such as Google Classroom, Edmondo and WhatsApp were used for the asynchronous classes.
Laptops and desktops became a must for school, as well as a good internet connection. His parents were able to provide him with both, but he knows there were students who were being left behind because they didn’t have these things or took a while to get them.
Josh said an average school day went something like this:
- Waking up around 6 am to start his morning routine to get ready for school (brush his teeth, shower, have breakfast etc);
- After turning on his laptop, he read any notices or emails his teacher sent him overnight, while waiting for his teacher to send the link to a role call meeting on Zoom at 7.45 am. This lasts about 15 minutes.
- After roll call, the first period starts. This class goes on for about an hour. In between classes, Josh gets a 15-minute break when he can use the bathroom, stretch his legs and get his books ready for the next class.
- After the third period, Josh gets a 1-hour lunch break. When that’s over, Josh has 1 more class, then the school day is over (around 2 pm)
- Josh takes a one-hour break, completes his homework, then revises some of the week’s work. The cycle starts again the next morning.
Josh understood why virtual school was necessary. He knows it is meant to keep students safe while trying to stop the spread of Covid-19. He is extremely grateful he could continue with his schooling and make up for the initial lost four months of school at the beginning of the pandemic.
But he said there are some serious negatives to online school which is leading to drops in attendance and grades:
- After 3 terms, he felt he was being disadvantaged from the lack of constant attention from his teachers and not being able to engage with his classmates the way he could in physical school.
- He and his schoolmates frequently had internet connectivity issues which sometimes caused them to miss classes, or frustrated them during class. Josh thinks that the internet service providers need to do better and that they frequently let the ball drop by not providing enough bandwidth for the nation’s needs.
- Novel security issues became a norm, such as inappropriate advertisements being seen by students and “Zoom trollers.” For those not familiar, Zoom trollers are persons or a group of persons, who manage to gain access to online classes by using the name of one of the students in the class, then they share malicious or inappropriate content or find other ways to interrupt the class.
All in all, Josh says online school is pretty beneficial as it gets the gears in students heads turning, but it is not as efficient as real physical schooling. He was able to make the best of what they have now, but he would rather to go to school in person as it would allow him to socialize and develop many other skills that isn’t possible with online school.
I hope Josh and all the other students can, indeed, return to some state of normal physical school in September, so long as all possible precautions for their safety are taken. Be safe T&T.
Copyright © 2021 Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C is a Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator.
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