Essequibo Teacher calls for better internet access as he struggles to teach in a pandemic

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By Bibi Khatoon

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced teachers to move their classes online but this is difficult in communities where there is little or no internet access.

In Region Two, teachers have complained that the connectivity is extremely slow; in some areas only Digicel’s signal is available and data is expensive.

The News Room spoke with 27-year-old teacher Martin Samaroo on Thursday who is calling on the Government to provide cheaper internet access on the Essequibo Coast and for officials to provide devices for students in need.

“It is so poor, it is unreliable, we are paying basically $10,000 per month for internet; we are limited to 50GB per month so you can imagine if you are streaming every day, that’s going to finish in a matter of days,” Samaroo said.

Samaroo started teaching in 2011 and currently works at the Huis’t Dieren Primary School. Since the closure of schools on March 17, Samaroo said the only option available for him to teach is WhatsApp.

“The reason we cannot teach via Zoom or Google classrooms or any other of these high tech [tools] is because we do not have the internet service here in Essequibo, it is terrible, really….we cannot do virtual classes like the schools in Georgetown and we have to settle for WhatsApp where we just send short videos, instructions in voice notes and worksheets in PDF.

“That’s as much as we can do now,” the young teacher told the News Room.

However, even WhatsApp poses a challenge since most students do not own a mobile device.

He noted that sometimes school work is sent to the parents’ mobile but those parents who are working are not able to pass on those worksheets to the students until they get home in the nights. When this occur, it becomes difficult to keep up the engagement with those students.

“Another challenge is poverty. Let’s say in a class of 25, there may be about 10 pupils that can afford a tablet and of that, ten can afford internet access,” the teacher explained.

Samaroo said in his class of 33 pupils, only 20 are in the WhatsApp group while only 13 have access to full time classes throughout the day.

As such, he believes the Government can intervene and make virtual learning more accessible.

“The Government at this point in time can support parents and teachers by making internet available at a cheaper cost, making sure students have access to internet and devices,” he pleaded.

Teacher Martin Samaroo with students of the Huis’t Dieren Primary School during one of his class activities prior to COVID-19

Samaroo said he loves his job and will work to ensure his students, as much as possible, are engaged in learning until face-to-face interaction can be allowed.

Asked what motivates him, he said “it’s the love for the children, the little things they do for day to day and the way you are able to inspire them and being a positive force in their life. Being a teacher at the Primary level is not just someone who is giving instructions, it is to be a father figure to those who don’t have fathers, to be a big brother, it offers so much that I can’t seem to part with.”

He further noted: “Teachers are significantly underpaid and you can’t take care of a family on a teacher’s salary but when it comes to this profession, you’ll need to have a genuine love for what you do.”

The Ministry of Education closed schools on March 17 in keeping with the COVID-19 guidelines to stop the spread of the disease.

So far, Guyana has recorded 3,329 cases and 98 deaths.

The Ministry has since rolled out virtual learning on Radio, Television and online as well as distributed workbooks in the hinterland regions from September 14.

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