Jamaica Gleaner – A DEDICATED 24-hour education cable channel and satellite Internet are the key elements in a plan to reach more than 31,000 students islandwide currently cut off from COVID-19-triggered online lessons due to lack of Internet access, says ReadyTV CEO Chris Dehring.

With physical classes suspended since March 13, three days after the first case of the deadly coronavirus was confirmed locally, classes for students at all levels of the education system have moved to cyberspace.

However, educators have complained that many students are unable to benefit from distance-learning efforts due to lack of access to the Internet or being unable to afford data plans.

On Monday, Karl Samuda, the minister overseeing the education portfolio, announced that starting this month, the Government would be distributing tablets to students. He acknowledged that tens of thousands of students were being left behind as he announced the ReadyTV partnership aimed at bringing them on stream for the rest of the academic year, which ends on July 3. The physical reopening of schools is set for September 7, the start of the 2020-2021 academic year.

Yesterday, Dehring detailed the plans of the partnership to The Gleaner.

“It involves two major projects. One is the launch of a 24/7 educational channel, which is being done in coordination with a number of corporate sponsors, … and that is being launched next week. It’s a dedicated educational channel – eHome School Network – and we are starting with eHome School Primary,” Dehring said.

He said that the channel will have live and delayed classes and primary school students will be able to sit in the comfort of their homes as they take part in the lessons. This component, he said, will be available to all cable companies.

“The second piece is the Internet in schools. We have been contracted to deliver Internet services – Wi-Fi services – to 100 rural and remote schools that basically have been cut off from connectivity for a while. We will be rolling that out as well concurrently,” the businessman said. “And, of course, we are talking about the major roll-out of an Internet service in Jamaica, satellite-delivered Internet.”

When asked about the value of deal brokered with the Ministry of Education, Dehring said: “Let’s put it this way, several multimillion-dollar-type transactions, both invested by ourself as well as corporate sponsors and so on.”

Dehring said the system has been successfully tested in some of the most remote parts of the island.

“In the first instance, we will be utilising the Ready TV digital broadcast network … . And in the second part to deliver Internet, we are utilising satellite Internet, which, of course, is the very latest in satellite technology, which is being used around the world to connect remote communities where other technology would have challenges,” Dehring added.