Over 2,000 students have benefitted from tablet computers donated by the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund to early childhood institutions across Jamaica to facilitate virtual learning.
Two thousand devices, valued $50 million, were distributed between May and August to several schools.
They included: Allman Town Infant School in Kingston; Evelyn Mitchell Infant School in Clarendon; Arcadia Primary and Infant School in St. Thomas; Boundbrook Infant School in Portland; Naggo Head Infant School in St. Catherine; and Bethabara Infant School in Manchester.
The project complements the CHASE Fund’s SMART Boards Programme, designed to enable virtual/distant learning in the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The CHASE Technology Enhancement Programme (SMART Boards in Infant Schools), which began in 2019, supplements the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information’s Tablets in Schools initiative.
CHASE Fund, Project Manager, Latoya Aquart-Foster, noted that the organisation recognises the pandemic’s devastating impact on families not having sufficient access to electronic devices.
“Many children either do not have access or must share access with older siblings. Nationally, students who are doing exams are given priority, so there is a major gap within the early childhood sector. So since that age group is within our mandate under education – specifically early childhood education – we took the opportunity to provide devices for children in that age cohort,” she explained.
According to Mrs. Aquart-Foster, the CHASE Fund wants to reduce the learning gap emerging as a result of the pandemic.
“It is a critical stage, as quite a bit of development takes places at that age cohort of 4-6 years old, and we want to ensure that they were still being engaged and reached,” she added.
Mrs. Aquart-Foster said that the CHASE Fund remains committed to providing solutions tailored to meeting the needs of the local education system.
“The gap that exists between technology and other resources is continuously being pursued in the hope of providing the best environment for children to learn and thrive. The provision of infrastructure, training, smart boards and, more recently, tablets and printers, is always a response to issues facing the sector and the future outcomes being sought,” she explained.
The Early Childhood Commission (ECC) assisted with the undertaking by providing the CHASE Fund with a list of recommended schools.
“The ECC is equipped with a database that captures ongoing and current information on the sector; so they were in a position to provide recommendations, based on a needs assessment,” Mrs. Aquart-Foster informed.
“Whenever we are looking at the sector and trying to identify the areas of most need or the areas that we would see the biggest impact, we consult with the ECC because they have a panoramic view of the sector and they know where the deficiencies are and where the needs are greatest,” she stated.
Mrs. Aquart-Foster noted the positive feedback from administrators and teachers within the early childhood sector regarding the CHASE’s investment.
“Many of the principals and teachers have shared the struggles of virtual and distance teaching, especially regarding the cohort of children between 4-6 years old. Some of the teachers have indicated that since the pandemic started, they have not been able to reach some of their students; so the school community has expressed gratitude [for the tablets being provided],” she pointed out.
Mrs Aquart-Foster says with the CHASE Fund’s intervention, “many students will be engaged in the learning process, especially in some of the most volatile and remote areas in Jamaica.”
She praised the teachers and principals in the early education sector for their commitment to assisting the students.
“They go above and beyond to provide the resources for students in need, and they often seek assistance from organisations, like CHASE, because they are very determined to leave no student behind,” Mrs. Aquart-Foster added.