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East POS schools grateful for new tablets

From left to right, Bethlehem Boys' Sherry Ann Celestine, Nelson St Boys' Frances Gervais-Heath, Lucille Nathu, Fr Martin Sirju, Nelson St Girls' Lisa Hinds-Lynch and Bethlehem Girls' Ann Marie Pierre

Multi-pronged’ approach needed to get devices to students

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

A total of 54 tablets were distributed to the Nelson St Girls’ RC, Nelson St Boys’ RC, Bethlehem Girls’ RC, and Bethlehem Boys’ RC in a handing over ceremony held at the Nelson Street Girls’ on Friday, March 12.
Lisa Hinds-Lynch, the Principal of Nelson St Girls’ commended the generosity persons were displaying during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ten tablets received will be shared among the Infants and Standard One to Three classes. The school has a population of 367 pupils, and she estimated about 25 more electronic devices were needed.

Hinds-Lynch said finances were not easy for the parents in “survival mode” whose focus was on the bare necessities. Purchasing a device was for some “unthinkable”.

In homes with multiple children, sharing a single device was problematic. “We were so happy to receive these devices simply because we know then we would ensure there is equity. We still have to get more devices but we’re just happy because it is …helping.”

Principal of Bethlehem Boys’ Sherry Ann Celestine, was happy to receive the tablets. It was through private donations from the Lodge United Brothers and the Inter-Agency Task Force Hearts and Minds programme her pupils received some devices.

A collaboration between parents and En ToTo, a non-governmental organisation in which cost was shared, enabled the purchase of ten devices. There are 124 pupils at the school and after the latest contribution, 44 of them are still in need. Celestine said some pupils must wait until their parents bought a data plan to get online and/or must share a single phone.

Ann Marie Pierre, the Principal of Bethlehem Girls’ said, “we are eternally grateful; the numbers are counting up.” The school had 98 pupils, and after receiving the devices which will be shared among Standard Two and Three students, will need about 12 more. “The challenges are great, but the children are coming online, and the parents are trying their best to support.”
Frances Gervais-Heath said her boys in the Infant department at Nelson St Boys’ will benefit as previous donations were given to the Standard Four and Five classes.

“I know their parents will be appreciative of it so they will no longer have to be using packages and they could be online with their class teacher.”
She identified challenges of connectivity and parents being present to supervise their children. “We are working on that,” Gervais-Heath said.

Fr Martin Sirju, Vicar General and the schools’ manager referred to a report which highlighted underperformance of schools in urban and rural areas. He responded that a “multi-pronged” approach was required. “It is not just the work of the teachers and children, but also private sector has to become involved.”

He said the donation of the tablets to the four schools was a wonderful example and more of this was needed.

From a scriptural point of view, secular and legal definition, Fr Sirju said to have thousands of children without devices was an injustice. He referred to articles written on education which did not highlight the role of parents. “Parents are entrusted with the sacred responsibility of educating their children. All the teachers I have interacted with in schools in east Port of Spain say the parents can do better.”
In the past, parents made sacrifices, so their children got schoolbooks. It was this kind of sacrifice that was needed today, he stressed. “We need that valuing of education far above materialism.”
While the private sector, Church and parish do their part, parents are the first educators entrusted with the sacred task of ensuring their children get the best education possible and move out of the circumstances they lived, Fr Sirju said.

The involvement of the different groups will contribute to a society of justice, equity, and peace.
Lucille Nathu, the former General Manager of Catholic Media Services Ltd (CAMSEL) who presented the devices on behalf of a benefactor said, “I feel it is important when you can give back that you should.” Delivering remarks before the presentation of tablets, Nathu described herself as a “conduit” for the donor’s kindness. The Trini-Canadian resident in the Niagara Escarpment wished to remain anonymous.
“In the country now, during COVID, people need to practice what they preach and there are people out there who are willing to give and give generously,” she said.

She quoted US philosopher Dr Cornel West who said, “never forget justice is what love looks like in public”, adding that the donation was a reciprocation of love.

Online learning has difficulties because the children needed “face to face” interaction, therefore the teachers who were also counsellors, mediators and friends for their pupils needed support.
From December to February, the donor gave 84 tablets and $25,000 to the La Romaine Migrant Support and Kindness Makes A Difference Foundation to assist with equipping vulnerable children access to learning and communication. The cash was used for the purchase of groceries and hampers.