Children from all walks of life have been left struggling by the switch to online learning brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, a UWI education expert said Tuesday.
Professor Joel Warrican, Director of the School of Education at The UWI Cave Hill has suggested that middle-class children have not been spared harm to their education anymore than working-class children by the closure of schools.
He said: “When there is adversity, no matter who it seems to be affecting primarily, ultimately it affects us all and COVID is doing just that. Major disparities exist and may I hasten to say, have existed for a long time in our education system, but what COVID has done is that it exposed these disparities in different ways…and even within the middle-class, children are encountering challenges that in the pre-COVID time were faced constantly by the so-called ‘have nots’, the underprivileged children.
“Middle-class children, in my opinion, may have devices and the internet, but in many cases, their parents have to go to work just like everybody else and like the underprivileged children, many of them are left alone at home, so without the supervision haven that the classroom offers, the closure of schools and the subsequent switch to schooling particularly online in this COVID era, the injustice of our education towards even the middle-class children comes to the fore.”
He made the comments while speaking Tuesday on a panel discussion entitled, Mind the Education Gap: Schooling in the Caribbean during COVID-19, hosted by the UWI COVID-19 Task Force.
Professor Warrican said the pandemic had exposed the deficiencies of the current education system.
He maintained that while it had exacerbated those deficiencies, they existed long before COVID-19.
Online learning “did not bring out the best in teachers” and also highlighted a weakness in teacher supervision, the professor said.
He also pointed to the fact that secondary school students were underperforming prior to COVID.
Professor Warrican explained: “What COVID-19 and the closure of school has done is to create a non-traditional school environment in which the protective barrier that shielded certain groups of students has collapsed. Now, students from all backgrounds are feeling the effects of an education system that for quite some time has been failing a large proportion of the region’s students…these problems existed all along.
“Remember that prior to COVID and the closure of schools and the switch to primarily online learning, let us not forget that only 30 per cent of our students writing secondary school exit examinations obtained five or more subjects, including English and Mathematics. Remember this is the requirement to get into universities, into colleges, into the job market. So could things have really been so good as we are saying? I doubt that.”
Highlighting the controversial results of last year’s CXC exams, which were held in a different format because of the effects of COVID, Professor Warrican said CXC ought to accept some responsibility for the results.