The May Pen, Clarendon Unit of Lister Mair / Gilby High School for the Deaf has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with fluctuating daily attendance to online courses, where, at times, up to 95% of students are absent.
Principal Portia Byfield-Wedderburn, who lost her hearing ability more than two decades ago at the age of 13, said The gleaner by an interpreter that the lack of devices and the difficulties of accessing the Internet were the main obstacles for children with disabilities.
Speaking at a tablet handover ceremony by First Heritage Co-operative (FHC) Credit Union on Monday, Byfield-Wedderburn expressed gratitude for the donation, noting it would help alleviate some of the challenges.
“Due to [the lack of devices and Internet access issues], we had a low turnout, but we got donations from some organizations and now FHC has also contributed, so we will see an improvement in attendance, but the challenge now is Internetâ¦. This is one of the biggest challenges we have right now. We have the devices, but not the Internet, âsaid Byfield-Wedderburn as eight of his students received devices from the financial institution.
She noted that while support for the Deaf community has improved, there is still a lot to do.
âPeople focus more on people with disabilities, so I can’t complain. I saw an improvement but in the future we would like to see more. â¦ It’s good that people are learning about us and supporting us more, âshe said.
Another challenge, she pointed out, was that many students with disabilities were even more disadvantaged in the virtual learning environment, as their employed parents were unable to provide adequate supervision.
âDeaf students need more supervision,â said Byfield-Wedderburn, noting that the transition to virtual learning has caused starting difficulties for students and teachers.
She acknowledged, however, that the Department of Education had helped meet the challenges.
Marvalyn Sherwood-Barker’s 15-year-old daughter was among eight pill recipients on Monday.
She said The gleaner that it was not easy trying to navigate the distance learning environment, adding that she anticipates the resumption of face-to-face classes.
âMy daughter is a little frustrated because she’s the only child at home, so the fact that she can’t go out and socialize with her peers makes it a bit more difficult. Sometimes she acts, but her teacher is really good with her and she makes her calm down and we see improvements, but we do anticipate face-to-face learning because I think that will alleviate some of the challenges, âsays Sherwood-Barker.
Another parent, Keneisha Baker, said that not being fluent in sign language has revealed new challenges for her since the pandemic made e-learning mandatory.
âSometimes I can’t bother myself. The online course is difficult …. Sometimes I don’t really know how to interact with him, so it’s very difficult, âshe lamented.
Minister of State for Education Robert Nesta Morgan congratulated FHC, hailing the donation as a noble manifestation of concern for the state of the country’s children.
He added that while the ministry is working to reduce inequalities among students and has made significant progress, the need for devices is far too great for a single entity to fill.
âThe harsh reality is that the demand for these resources exceeds the government’s ability to provide for every child in need. This is where other groups within our society, such as the private sector, demonstrate their importance. Whether there are 50 or 500, the impact of these devices on the lives of recipients will remain immeasurable, âMorgan said.
FHC’s tablet donation initiative aims to equip 43 students with special needs and 17 elementary school students with devices.
May Pen branch manager Norman Williams said The gleaner that his team decided to help students with disabilities because they were more disadvantaged.
âIt is part of our corporate social responsibility. It is a part of our mantra; we speak it every day. â¦ All the communities in which we operate, we want to have a positive impact, âhe said.