– data review, infrastructure before the new school term
By Vishani Ragobeer
COGNIZANT of the differences facing students in hinterland regions, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, a review of existing infrastructure is being undertaken to ensure that some support can be provided in the school term new.
In a recent interview with the Guyana Chronicle, Deputy Chief Education Officer (DCEO) for Amerindian and Hinterland Development, Marti DeSouza said that this newly established unit would “immediately review” the existing infrastructure for hinterland schools.
This review involves understanding how many schools have active science and computer laboratories. Having done this, he confirmed that the central Ministry of Education (MoE) will investigate what can be done to support the schools, and possibly improve the infrastructure.
“This should be done very soon from now. The school closed on Friday, and it is up to me to gather data available in the central ministry to see where these facilities exist, and what the challenges are, ”said DeSouza.
DeSouza, who hails from the hinterland village of Santa Rosa, is familiar with the differences in hinterland education. And, he acknowledged that these had been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“In the hinterland, we do not have access to Wi-Fi as easily as the coast, so the Internet access that students could have accessed was data,” he highlighted.
Because access to data is what teachers and students have relied on, communication is limited to sending voice notes and images via WhatsApp. Distributions via virtual media like Zoom or Microsoft Teams would not be possible.
According to DeSouza, the situation with data presents many challenges, however. The data plans offered by the two mobile telecommunications companies in Guyana are limited. Limited data is not conducive to virtual learning, especially with the emphasis on video streaming, which consumes large amounts of that data.
A basic monthly plan, which includes two gigabytes of data, costs $ 2,000 on one network, and $ 2,699 on the other. But, consider this: A 30-minute video call via WhatsApp uses approximately 350 megabytes of data.
One gigabyte has 1,000 megabytes of data, so about three hours of video calling (or about six 30 minute sessions) would use this whole month plan. Therefore, maintaining the use of data for education is difficult.
“COVID has opened our eyes to many, many things like the systems we have in place to cushion the effects of such a pandemic,” lamented DeSouza.
Another issue has been the lack of devices such as tablets, phones and laptops. Some weeks ago, the education ministry began distributing work booklets in an attempt to alleviate these challenges. Yet interaction between learners and teachers is limited.
Digital entrepreneur Samantha Sheoprashad also told the Guyana Chronicle that not only needed better infrastructure to improve bandwidth and Internet security, but also that programs and policies needed to develop digital literacy in Guyana.
Sheoprashad works with communities in rural areas, and confirmed that there have been similar challenges in these communities since the transition to virtual education.
“I don’t think any of the policy makers thought this was going to happen… And now that people have to go to school online, those people don’t have access to it sometimes basic education, and they still do not have access to it. Internet. More needs to be done, ”Sheoprashad stressed.