“Obviously Madam speaker, it is difficult to ask students to engage in online school if they can’t get

online. And there were two phases to the challenge faced in online school; one was devices and one was that of access.”

Minister of Finance Camilo Gonsalves, who also has responsibility for technology, made the comment in

this ministerial statement to the parliament last week.

His comment came even as the discussions on E-learning and problems faced continued across the country – some of those problems being lack of internet access, lack of devices or adequate access to devices and participation by students, particularly those in primary schools.

The finance minister spoke of an initiative of his government which is designed to help students and households without access to internet at a time when have to do their coursework from home because

of the Covid-19 pandemic and established protocols.

He said the NTRC in January this year conducted a survey of primary, secondary and tertiary level education institutions to get data on students that have internet access at home He said that about 80 to 82 percent of the educational institutions responded in full to the survey.

“It indicates that 81 percent of Primary students have internet at home, which means that nineteen percent do not and 88 percent of secondary school students have internet at home 12% do not. Almost the entirety of the students at the community college internet access at home over 98% and of the two

technical institute 39 that responded to the survey one had 78 percent of their students with internet at home and the other had 66 percent of their students of internet at home,” Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves said his government “moved quickly to provide 8-inch tablets, which we distributed to every Community College Student, every Secondary School student every grade 6 student and every Grade 5 student save and except the Grade 5 students who are in Kingstown schools.” He said that “by that point we ran out of tablets in stock.”

“We are currently procuring more tablets for the remainder of the primary schools, but due to certain logistical challenges we dont have them in hand yet.

‘So we helped, Madam speaker, with the issue of devices and this, what we are announcing today, Madam Speaker, deals with the issue of internet access,” Gonsalves told parliament.

Gonsalves said the NTRC recently launched two initiatives to facilitate access to households with students that currently do not have either fixed or a wireless broadband connection.

“The first initiative is the second phase of an initiative that was launched last March that saw 340 households connected with fixed broadband internet access at a discounted rate. The option for a two- year period requires the household to pay only 10 EC dollars per month and for the NTRC to cover the remaining cost.

“The second phase which is commencing now, will see another 340 households connected on the same conditions with two years $10 a month with the NTRC paying the additional cost.

“The main criteria for this initiative are for the households to be without internet over the last two years.

The reason for this is to target those households that would most likely never have had an internet connection as compared to households who may have been recently disconnected,” he said.

Gonsalves further said that the households must have students currently enrolled in either a primary

secondary or tertiary-level institution. He said this initiative is being executed under a contract with

FLOW and that the second component is targeted specifically to households of students that received one of the tablets that were distributed by the government. He noted that one of the important features of the tablets is that not only do they have a Wi-Fi connection to access internet, but they also have a SIM card so they can access internet in much the same way that a smartphone can access the internet.

He said that under this initiative, Digicel will provider data service on the tablets under abspecial plan for students with the government- issued tablets. The plan offers 40 gigabytes of data for 30 days.

Under this plan, Digicel has decided to zero rate the use of Microsoft Teams video conferencing software for schools … which is the chosen application, the recommended application of the Ministry of Education.

So, whenever students have a class, online class that is being offered via Microsoft Teams, students with these tablets will be able to view that class or participate in that class without using up their data.

Therefore, they can access that class freely using Microsoft teams.

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