By Lara Pickford-Gordon
With schools closed in March, the Acting Principal of Sacred Heart Boys’ (SHB) RC, Gillian Urbano, encouraged the teachers to use online and alternative methods to reach out to all students despite the varied disadvantages. After a lot of prayers and tenacity, SHB has free, unlimited subscription to Google’s G Suite for Education.
Google has been flooded with requests from around the world since its offer to make the platform free to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications must be approved.
“We sent endless letters trying to persuade the Google Suite team to allow us to benefit from their free educational support in their Learning Management System. This opportunity could not be ignored,” the Catholic News was told. The G Suite was deemed to be the most suitable to meet the school’s needs. The platform facilitated any type of electronic device and meetings through Google Meet and could accommodate as many classes as the school wanted.
Another benefit was that the teaching content of each class could be monitored by the school’s administration.
SHB started with the one-month trial but needed to show proof that it was a legitimate and accredited school. “The main issue was proving that we were a legitimate primary school and it will be used in favour of the institution and not in favour of a group, organisation, class or teacher related to the institution or outside of it,” the Catholic News was informed.
When the school was notified of the requirements, three days were left before the trial expired. The school lost access to the platform. Thereafter, there was constant contact with Google Support to resume classes monthly, pending meeting the requirements for final approval.
The challenge was maintaining continuity. “The whole objective throughout that last term [April 20 to July 3] was to keep the school running and ensure the children and parents too are calm and could get what they could get from the Google Suite”.
The school needed to acquire a domain name and build a website. Although the school was listed on a state website this was not sufficient. After three months it was informed that the school still had not met the criteria and it was necessary to restart the application process.
The Catholic News was informed the school “with unrelenting pursuit for three months” was allowed to continue the use of the platform in the last school term.
The uncertainty hanging over the start of the new academic year in September caused the school to persist after the free trials were exhausted. Another application was sent in.
A parent experienced in Information Technology (IT) assisted SHB with the application process to Google. Correspondence to Google stressed the need for the platform in the new normal, “to run virtual classrooms, issue assignments and learning materials, grade students, organise teachers and virtually run primary schools”.
He stated that Google was notified of ttconnect, the official website of the state showing the school was listed among primary schools in Trinidad and Tobago; reference was made to the TT Accreditation Council’s site which indicated accreditation for only tertiary level institutions.
SHB got assistance from the TT Network Information Centre to set up its domain name and then went to Google to create shbrc.edu.tt using its web creation tool Google Sites. Information on the school’s Facebook page, and from the principal and teachers were used for the website.
Throughout the setbacks the principal recited prayers and novenas always ending with “Jesus I trust in you”. SHB was notified August 13 that it was approved.
The news was timely with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s August 15 announcement of schools being closed until further notice. “We don’t have to pay for anything and on the platform, we are also accommodating the PTA Executive prayer group, every Sunday. Since this COVID-19 situation we meet to pray for the country, COVID-19 victims, family life, unemployed, crime, parents, schools, and teachers”, the Catholic News was told.