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JM | Dec 5, 2020

UNICEF, Education Ministry check-in online with special needs students

/ Our Today

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United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Jamaica representative, Mariko Kagoshima (second left), presents a tablet to Acting Chief Education Officer in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Dr. Kasan Troupe (second right) during the handover of 210 tablets in July by UNICEF, for distribution to students with special needs. Looking on at right is Assistant Chief Education Officer, Special Education Unit in the ministry Dr. Sharon Anderson Morgan and at left is the Community Development Manager, Digicel Foundation, Miguel ‘Steppa’ Williams. (File Photo: JIS)

The Ministry of Education, Youth & Information and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) yesterday held an online check-in session in recognition of International Day for Persons with Disabilities (IDPWD). The discussion was held to get hear from students how they felt about using their newly donated tablets.

The donation, valued approximately J$14 million, is part of UNICEF’s support for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information’s (MOEYI) ‘One Tablet or Laptop Per Child’ initiative and to re-equip the special education sector following the impact of COVID-19.

Speaking to the students Minister of Education Youth and Information Fayval Williams, expressed her satisfaction in viewing firsthand “the impact of UNICEF’s brilliant efforts”.

“I want to say thank you to UNICEF for the work they continue to do in Jamaica, especially the work that is focused on our children here, especially our children with special needs in Jamaica,” she said.

STUDENTS ADAPTING WELL TO DEVICES

UNICEF Jamaica Country Representative Mariko Kagoshima congratulated the children on how well they are adapting to the devices, which are ‘Accessibility Ready’, meaning that students can use them on delivery to their school by the ministry’s Special Education Unit.

“In fact, Dr. Sharon Anderson-Morgan of the Special Education Unit has been advocating for the introduction of tablets long before the COVID-19 crisis, so it is really great to see all of you with a tablet in your hand and using it so well,” said Kagoshima.

Students themselves were vocal in explaining their experiences to UNICEF and ministry officials and educators.

“It helps me to interact with my teachers and classmates. I receive counselling from my guidance counsellor which helps me to explain how I feel being away from face-to-face class.”

Tichan Beadle, from Edgehill School of Special Education in St Ann

For Tichan Beadle, from Edgehill School of Special Education in St Ann, besides improving on subjects, her tablet has also enhanced her social skills and the devices have also been a source of psychosocial support – especially vital for the many children who have experienced disruptions to their normal lives.

“It helps me to interact with my teachers and classmates,” she said. “I receive counselling from my guidance counsellor which helps me to explain how I feel being away from face-to-face class.”

The donation was made possible thanks to the financial contribution from the United Arab Emirates government, which has enabled UNICEF to support several education projects in Jamaica since 2019; together with Unicomer Jamaica Limited which purchased 100 of the tablets; and the donation of  SIM cards and one-year mobile Internet access from the Digicel Foundation.

UNICEF encouraged other potential donors to support the ministry’s drive to equip students with devices to enable their participation in distance learning during the pandemic.

Across Latin America and the Caribbean, 97 per cent of students are currently out-of-school and many families cannot afford devices and Internet access.

A representative survey by UNICEF and the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) of more than 500 households islandwide, between the period of June to August 2020 revealed that 80 per cent of Jamaican households with children have lost income – losing an average of 46 per cent.

The main reasons for children at pre/basic school or primary/preparatory level not engaging in distance learning was attributed to a lack of adequate facilities. At high school age, the main explanation was not possessing a suitable device (62 per cent) and lacking access to the Internet (18 per cent).

Just this week, the education ministry acknowledged that diagnostics assessment had revealed a significant learning loss among students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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