Starting in May, public schools will begin to attend online classes. The government is working to help students who don’t have access to the needed technology. (File Photo: AMANDA ULRICH)

Virgin Islands teachers are currently taking lessons of their own.

Under the guidance of trainers with Kiker Learning, a Google-affiliated platform that instructs teachers in virtual education, primary school instructors are learning how to structure their curriculum before online classes kick off in earnest the first week of May.

Though teachers could be allowed to visit their classrooms to plan and execute their lessons, primary and secondary school students are to remain at home.

As the launch draws near, last-minute preparations are being put in place to make the transition to at-home learning as seamless as possible, Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said last Thursday in the House of Assembly.

Dr. Wheatley issued the update before government announced the curfew extension, but once the curfew is over, he still hopes teachers will be able to visit their classrooms pending any advice by the Health Emergency Operations Centre and instructions from Cabinet, he said.

“I know that this may be scary for some students and teachers alike because this is not the traditional approach,” Dr. Wheatley said, adding, “Even before Covid-19, our ministry has been discussing the integration of technology into learning.”

Online platform

As part of an agreement between government and the platform Cisco Webex, teachers will host video conferences and other instructional communications with their students, Dr. Wheatley added.

However, teachers are also encouraged to use other online platforms that can aid their students, including Class Dojo, Facebook, Zoom, or Google Hangouts, according to the minister.

During the period of online instruction, he added, teachers are expected to post comprehensive summaries of each lesson and easily digestible work plans for their students.

Class attendance will still be required: Teachers are charged with reporting absences to their principal, who will then reach out directly to absent students and their parents, Dr. Wheatley said.

The ministry, he added, is also working on an online portal that will contain lessons from various departments that any student or teacher can view.

Computer issues

However, attending the virtual classes will be harder for some than others. A recent survey circulated by the ministry found that at least 712 primary and secondary school students lack internet access and 730 do not have the requisite devices for online learning, Dr. Wheatley said.

There could be many more: Only a small percentage of households with school-age children filled out the survey, Dr. Wheatley said.

“In an effort to gather further data to assist in finalising our strategy, I appeal to parents to complete the assessment over the coming days,” he added.

The ministry is also exploring the possibility of holding in-person classes for students with learning disabilities, Dr. Wheatley said, noting that these classes would probably have fewer than 20 participants and comply with all social distancing guidelines.

It is unclear how the recent death and another new Covid-19 case will affect this effort.

Recognising that the coronavirus and all of the ensuing restrictions could have a significant impact on students’ mental health, the ministry will also provide virtual psychosocial counseling for students in need, the minister said.

“We are aware we will not be reaching every student and meeting their learning needs with online learning,” he added. “However, our intention is to ensure no child is left behind.”

Assessments

The planned changes will impact the current academic schedule, with key stage assessments for grades four through six taking place on June 12, while CXC exams are tentatively scheduled to begin June 24 and end July 17, Dr. Wheatley said.

In light of these changes, graduation requirements, including community service hours and exit proficiency exams, will be reviewed and altered, he added.

Exit exams and graduation ceremonies will be postponed as well, though the ministry may consider an online graduation if needed, according to the minister.

With students facing such disruptions, teachers, parents and administrators will all need to assume greater responsibility for their success, Dr. Wheatley said.

“As we continue with this period of uncertainty, we urge everyone to remain calm,” he said, adding, “With a positive attitude, we will strive to meet the needs of all students at highest level possible.”


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