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School term starts… RC schools moving with faith

By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Twitter: @gordon_lp

The school term officially started Tuesday, September 1 with the first week used for orientation and planning curriculum delivery. Teaching is expected to commence September 7 for schools that are ready and September 14 for all schools.

A mix of methods—online platforms, social media, printed material—will be used since there are children without internet access or electronic devices to facilitate e-learning.

The Catholic News sought feedback from a few RC schools about their approaches in the new term. Perspectives shared came before Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly’s meeting with interest groups August 26 and announcements August 28 on plans for the school term.

At St Francis Boys’ College, Belmont, parents were asked to ensure their children wear their school shirts while home to get them in the right mindset and to have “uniformity and discipline”.

A combination of Google Classroom and the ministry’s BigBlueButton, a system for creating virtual classrooms and Zoom were “successfully” used last term. Desktops, laptops, and other resources are available for teachers to use at the school this week.

Lessons recorded on Zoom and Microsoft Teams can be sent to students via email or WhatsApp chat groups. Teachers will be encouraged to use various methods to assess learning e.g., “worksheets, responses to YouTube videos, and the usual homework and class assignments”.

The school day will begin with prayer and announcements as was the routine when everyone was at school. Classes begin from 9 a.m. maintaining a 45-minute duration per subject however, the schedule will not be the usual seven-class periods in a day.

Catholic News was told instruction would be for three to four hours with breaks between each class. This was intended to prevent students being online continuously and enable teachers with children and/or caring for elderly parents to cope. “We do not want to burnout teachers” the Catholic News was told.

Teachers were instructed they must have “at least” one class with live teaching. One of the trends which has been reported from schools using e-learning last term was that attendance dropped off. This can be monitored because online platforms can record attendance but “parents have to put things in place to assist the teachers”.  Every two weeks a report will be submitted to the school supervisor. This applies to all schools.

At Tunapuna Boys’ RC teachers were also given the opportunity to use the school’s computers, set up in their classrooms, in the library or computer room.  A “conscious effort was made…not to have students engaged for long durations and to have sessions that would be physical, so as to encourage students to do some physical activities”.

Like other schools Tunapuna Boys’ also has pupils without devices or access to the internet. “We decided to focus on what we can control and plan for the teaching in anticipation of students being provided with what they need”.  A recommendation was made to parents to purchase a device if they can afford. Among the concerns of Tunapuna Boys’ is the emotional, social, and psychological wellbeing of teachers, parents, and students.

Other challenges identified were supervision and the “authenticity of the students’ doing the work”. The school planned to purchase a cell phone to create class lists of parents’ contact information in WhatsApp groups so that messages can be sent out to all parents at short notice. This will also be used to message parents if any student is absent from the virtual classes.

The Catholic News was told, “Teachers have been challenged to design sessions that are not just informative but also fun and enjoyable for both teacher and student”.

An “opportunity” was seen to reenergise the teaching profession “to not only be the dispenser of academic information but the empowerment of individuals and improvement of lives”.

Rose Hill RC in Port of Spain will use Zoom classes to facilitate “face-to-face” interaction. As with the Secondary Entrance Assessment preparation, photocopies and books will be left at the security booth to be collected by parents whose children are without internet access.  Parents will return completed work for correction by teachers.

The children with access to their parents’ phones after-school hours will use WhatsApp and online platforms e.g. Google Classroom, KidsKonnect.  Assignments will be sent via phone and the children respond with photographs of completed work for the teachers to review.

The Catholic News was told, “There will always be persons who have less and more… We have to move beyond that and be grateful for what we have, bless it, and know God is there with us”.

There was some absenteeism last term and checks were done to find out the reasons. The school expected to start “shaky”, but the focus will be on the children and doing what is necessary.

In the present circumstances the mindset is, “If you want to focus on the children you have to take risks…in going forward we need to remove the fear and put faith and really do what we need to do”.