'Di online not working'Tuesday, September 14, 2021
EARLIER this year I was walking along Sutton Street and I came upon a boy sitting beside a stall. He had two schoolbooks open before him and a worried, confused look on his face. I interfered. After two questions he looked back at one of the books incredulously. A broad smile replaced the worried look and I turned to leave. But a girl with an open workbook was in my way. As soon as I started to talk to her, another girl joined her. I started to wonder what I had got myself into when a much older girl joined us. She introduced herself as the mother of the first girl.
After getting support from others to convince me, she stated proudly that she “start early”. We started talking and she claimed that she really wanted to help her daughter with her schoolwork but was astonished to find that she had forgotten “everything she learnt in school”. I suggested that she visit the school, not far away, and get help from the class teacher. She said she had done so, twice, but no teacher was at the school – just “somebody in the office answering the phone”.
The second surprise came when she said she had an older daughter who celebrated her 15th birthday the previous August. She was alright, however, as she got a job as a live-in babysitter and “the people [her employers] love her and give her anything she want”. I would, too, if she was caring for my infant child. As far as her academic future was concerned, she stated, with finality, that her boyfriend said that since she had a job she did not need to go back to school. Our conversation ended with her saying that most of the mothers in her community were in a similar position – not remembering what they learnt in school and, she added, “…online jus not working”.
I fear the problem of this very young mother is likely to beset the next generation. That is because her failure to remember what she had learnt is due to the fact that she never learnt it in the first place. For learning to take place all material to be remembered must be refreshed in the mind by regular review and repetition.
In the case of these three children, it took less than a minute for each of them to solve their problem. This is because they already had the information stored away in their minds. The material was studied one way but the test question was asked another way, so they were unable to recall the information. I suspect that if they were able to learn the material, putting it completely and accurately in their own words, their ability to remember would be significantly increased.
Another potential problem I picked up from talking to the mother is that, on the few occasions when the “online” was working there was some amount of mental overcrowding. Too much input at one time into the senses inhibits learning and remembering. So, in situations where children are trying to study with competing activities in the same space – like TV, stereo, playing, quarrelling – the ability to learn will be seriously challenged.
In the settings mentioned earlier it is very likely that much of the material will be under-learnt. For children to remember something, it must first be learnt. By that I mean stored in long-term memory. If conditions do not allow them to get information into their long-term memory, they have under-learnt the material and forgetting is normal.
It is truly unfortunate that many parents are unable to participate more fulsomely in the education of their children, particularly during these 'no-school' times. Parents are the first and most powerful influence on children's learning, development, health and well-being.
Children growing up in families with diverse sociocultural and linguistic perspectives need to be attending school and interacting with fellow students.
A major contributor to successful online learning is the availability of a reliable Internet service provider. We do not have this in Jamaica and it is remarkable that citizens are required to pay – on a monthly basis – for services that are so disgracefully unreliable, and no one in a leadership position seems to be concerned. This poor service is affecting not only education, but also national development.
The horrible effects of school interruption are already evident in a variety of areas. A senior police officer stated on the evening news that schoolboys have been recruited and are now active members of criminal gangs. Community members attest to the fact that schoolgirls are becoming mothers.
In three or four years this period will be reflected in the quality of workers entering the labour force. Some schools are seeing a reduction in registration. Apart from the problems mentioned previously, others have turned their backs on school for cheap, temporary, low-paying jobs. Many are already lost to education despite the fact that they are woefully unprepared for the world of work.
One teacher announced on TV that she would spend the first half of the term doing remedial work. I must, reluctantly, burst her bubble. Remedial programmes are designed to close the gap between what students know and what they are expected to know. It is more than just revision. Teachers will need special training as the programme needs to recognise that the target is students with gaps in their learning because of frequent absences or trouble with focus. Those who do not progress could be suffering from a learning disability. Arrangements must be in place for more specialised instruction.
To that teacher on TV, may I suggest that she is likely to find that she will have to go back and reteach what was taught from 2019.
I am disappointed that I have found the need to say this; however, teachers are still collecting their pay and therefore should turn up for work on time and make themselves available to parents and students.
Critical in all of this is that mother's last words to me, “Di online not working.”
Glenn Tucker is an educator and a sociologist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com