Learning from home has hit the majority of students across the Caribbean region, with the greatest challenge being the difficulty in focusing on schoolwork.
A recent study — Insult to Injury: The Impact of C-19 on Vulnerable Communities in the Caribbean — by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) examined the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable groups in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and shows that across 34 per cent of children had difficulty learning from home. This ranged from a high of 43 per cent in Jamaica to a low of 11 per cent in Trinidad and Tobago.
Further, 21 per cent of respondents reported that the students in their household had no access to the Internet, with wide disparities across countries: 44 per cent in Jamaica, 14 per cent in Trinidad and Tobago, five per cent in Antigua and Barbuda; and two per cent in Barbados.
Seventeen per cent of respondents indicated that students had no access to a computer or tablet for online learning, with at least one-fifth of students experiencing this challenge in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, while two per cent of Antigua and Barbuda respondents reported this as an issue as did eight per cent in Barbados.
The study also points out that the challenges to learning from home were worse for students in poor households due to absence of Internet access and access to devices, which affected 71 per cent indicating greater barriers to online learning.
Within poor households, 58 per cent of students also had difficulty focusing on schoolwork and 65 per cent reported the absence of a conducive environment for learning, factors which could be addressed through learning in a physical school environment.
In addition, CAPRI said an equal proportion of respondents in poor and non-poor households reported that they faced the issue of no supervision for children and the challenges highlighted from the survey are concerning for school-at-home, whether online or other remote modalities.
The report also mentioned that there is the implication that this situation is more severe for younger children as generally, the younger the child, the less mature the stage of their intellectual development, and the more dependent they are on an adult for supervision and guidance with school and learning.
Further, the CAPRI report states that parents or other carers may face challenges in supervising online or other forms of remote learning of multiple students in a household who are at different stages in the education system.
This, according to the CAPRI report, may be compounded in single-parent households, particularly those that are female-headed and where the burden of care is greater. Further, the household head may be working from home and in addition to student supervision responsibilities may also have to adhere to timelines for work-related deliverables.
The four countries’ governments, in attempting to mitigate the digital divide, have taken a range of actions. These include alternative/complementary-to-online modes, such as the provision of printed packages, instructional television, and radio shows, while simultaneously taking measures to increase access to online learning. National collaborative measures to bridge the gap in the digital divide are underway in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados.