With schools being closed as part of measures to control and prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), many students have been unable to keep up with their schoolwork due to the lack of access to the Internet and other necessary resources.
Detective Inspector of Police Pilmar Powell, who has been assigned to the Kingston Western Police Division since 2018, tells JIS News that she has seen first-hand the challenges faced by many families in the area in adapting to the virtual classroom concept.
The division covers communities such as Denham Town, Hannah Town, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, Jones Town and Arnett Gardens.
“Several weeks ago, my attention was zeroed in to children swinging in trees, getting into trouble and different social ills. I took up my phone and contacted the Ministry of Education (Youth and Information) and I asked about the plans going forward for children, who are not able to access the online portal schoolwork,” she tells JIS News.
Schools were closed on March 13, just days after Jamaica confirmed its first case of COVID-19, but the learning process continued via online platforms.
On May 4, Minister with oversight for Education, Karl Samuda, announced that online and distance learning have been extended to July 3 and that schools will not physically reopen until the next academic year on September 7, 2020.
Detective Inspector Powell, who is assigned to the Kingston and St. Andrew Forward Operating Base, says that since schools have been closed, there have been a number of students within the division, who were not being engaged in terms of learning.
She says it was then that she decided to seek partners in order to put in place an initiative where worksheets would be printed and distributed to students.
In no time, the Detective Inspector received support from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, which is providing the worksheets. The Community Safety and Security Branch (CSSB) of the Kingston Western Police Division, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) and the Jamaica Alumni Association for High Schools are also on board.
The project, which targets 1,500 students, began on May 4 and saw hundreds of students and parents taking advantage of the opportunity. It will run for four days per week in the first phase, facilitating primary level students in grades 4-6 and secondary level students in grades 7-10.
Packages are being distributed at the Denham Town Restorative Justice Centre, Charlie Smith High School and the St. Andrew Primary School between 8:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. from Monday to Thursday.
In addition to the worksheets, the packages also contain information from the Ministry of Health & Wellness on COVID-19 prevention methods.
Each student has one week to complete and return the worksheets to the location collected, where they will be picked up and taken to the Ministry of Education for marking.
Detective Inspector Powell tells JIS News that the printed worksheets will ensure that students within the different communities are not left behind academically, but will allow them to “come to the realisation that this is not summer holidays, it is school, although not in session in the classroom.”
“This is a social and professional transformation. So we are taking the children from an ascribed status to an achieved status. Education is the key. No matter what work you are going to do in life, you must have the background and the basic education,” says Detective Inspector Powell.
She notes that the initiative is in keeping with the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) strategic priory aimed at building safer communities through improved relations between citizens and the police.
For his part, Community Liaison Officer, Denham Town Restorative Justice Centre, Damion Burke, is expressing gratitude to Detective Inspector Powell and all other stakeholders, who have contributed to the initiative.
Burke says that parents and students are thankful for the alternative method, which has been put in place in order for learning to continue without Internet access.
He says with the initiative in place, he expects to see a reduced number of school aged children flying kites and playing football during the days, but rather completing assignments from the worksheets.
Cassie Murray, one of the many parents, who turned up at the Denham Town Restorative Justice Centre to collect a package for her child on the first day, says it “is a good look” to be able to get schoolwork printed for her child as she has no Internet service at home.