20 Aug, 2021
A young student uses the new devices now available at libraries.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of schools islandwide, one of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information’s largest organisations, the Jamaica Library Service (JLS) was called into action. The JLS was to expand its services to facilitate the nation’s students receiving adequate support in a virtual learning environment.

Through a donation of JM $27.5 million from the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports, and Education (CHASE) Fund, the JLS was able to respond strongly and enable students to effectively participate in the new learning modalities which have been necessitated by COVID-19.

The donation from the CHASE Fund was used to fund the purchase of 243 tablets, 80 laptops, and 19 multi-functional printers to bolster resources in 25 libraries across the island.

Public libraries island wide provide free access to a range of resources to meet the educational, informational, and recreational needs of students, teachers, and parents. Public libraries also provide free access to computers, tablets (limited numbers), and the internet.

Director-General, JLS, Maureen Thompson describes the donation as a breakthrough for the JLS.

“This donation is momentous for us as it provides us with the opportunity to expand the capacities of our libraries to offer free access to digital resources. We recognised that teachers and students were having challenges all around with access to the internet and devices in densely populated communities to enable meaningful participation in online learning and that with additional resources the JLS could give greater support,” she explained.

The Director-General told the JIS News that the primary beneficiaries of the project were students, teachers, and parents.

“Students or teachers who do not own a device would be loaned a laptop or a tablet. We were able to offer free access to digital resources to access information, particularly when social distancing is crucial to maintaining safety in the library space and the flexibility and convenience of the use of tablets and laptops facilitates this,” she explains.

Ms Thompson told JIS News that the donation by the CHASE Fund was also used to repair four mobile libraries.

The JLS previously offered internet-enabled mobile library services in deep rural communities and were outfitted with laptops and internet access that can facilitate access over 10 devices at a time.

“We had vehicles that were aged, some were irreparable and others could be repaired but we did not have the resources to fix them. Over time, the accessories in the vehicle would break down and things such as no air condition would mean the workers are in discomfort. We were able to restore these vehicles to enable them to go into more communities and the vehicles will begin going back into communities come the new academic year,” she said.

She added that the JLS team was fully prepared to return to over 30 communities at the start of the new 2021/2022 academic year to offer mobile library services.

Ms Thompson lauded the CHASE Fund for enabling the JLS to meet the demands of the new normal for Jamaica’s youth, online learning.

“We are very grateful for this partnership which has strengthened our mutual commitment to the continuous educating of our nation’s children and they continue to demonstrate their commitment to their mandate of facilitating the education of our nation’s children,” she said.

According to Ms Thompson, the JLS plays an integral role in the teaching and learning process through the provision of a wide range of information and technology resources, programmes, and services to support digital inclusion, educational and informational pursuits through 111 public libraries, and 898 school libraries.

Chief Executive Officer, CHASE Fund, Billy Heaven, said the organisation continues to operate in sync with the priorities of the government.

“Helping to supply devices is in keeping with the government’s “Tablets in Schools Project”. As challenging as it has been for both students and teachers during the pandemic, we have been catapulted into the use of tablets and other devices for learning and even with a return to face-to-face learning, this is a new reality and CHASE will continue to support technology in schools as a priority,” he explained.

Mr Heaven also noteed that the mobile libraries being repaired were crucial as they were now more relevant than ever before as Jamaica’s students continue to grapple with new learning modalities and limited or no access to devices and the internet.

The CHASE Fund has funded a number of initiatives at the JLS over the years, to the tune of approximately $96M. Under its Arts and Culture portfolio, the organisation has also supported tertiary institution libraries and the National Library of Jamaica.