Education Minister Octavia Alfred says the government has been working with service providers to ensure that all learning institutions in Dominica have internet access.
“Our Information Technology (IT) Officers and technicians have been working to extend the WiFi to all schools to increase access in classrooms,” Alfred stated on a radio programme last week. “Community service being provided is really not up to us; it’s up to the service providers but the relevant ministry is engaging these people so that this happens.”
She said Information Technology (IT) officers and technicians have been working to extend WiFi service to all schools on the island and so far, the Ministry of Education has ensured that all 73 schools on the island have internet. Before schools closed, she said, 32 schools had internet in all classrooms.
According to the Minister, other measures include the provision of smart devices to all schools including secondary school students and teachers in the new year and completion of programmes for training in the use of technology for teachers and “especially parents.”
Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, Alfred gave the assurance that other support programmes including uniforms, textbooks, transfer fees, the school feeding programme and transportation, are all in place. She said the focus is now on new programmes and new systems to address new challenges.
“I think we have done all we can. All our parents have to do is to just trust the process and get their children ready for school,” the Education Minister advised.
Meantime, Alfred said the government was well on its way to fully embrace online learning, however, the passage of Hurricane Maria slowed down the process.
“Before COVID we were already well on our way; [as] a matter of fact, before Maria, we were almost there and Maria put everything down,” she explained. “And before COVID we were almost there because there were a number of schools who actually did their exams completely online and some partially online.”
She believes that COVID-19 has fast-forwarded the process of online learning, but cautions that in tandem with the rapid forward movement, consideration must be given to the need for children to understand what data they create and leave behind while using the Internet, “that they understand what it is to be responsible.”
Alfred noted that the measures must also be designed to help children and their parents, “because parents want to be involved.”
The digital changes notwithstanding, the Minister maintains that children must still be able to socialize.
“The school and the face-to-face will always have a place even as we engage our students to help them to become global digital citizens. We will still need our interrelationship skills which are actually built at school,” she declared.
Online learning, Alfred explained, does not necessarily entail sitting in front of a laptop all day long or that the internet is needed for 12 hours.
She said textbooks will still be used and school lessons can be downloaded on students’ devices.