Almost 2 years since the first reported case of COVID-19 on the island, Jamaica continues to feel the impact of COVID-19 in very significant ways with the closure of physical schools and the adaptation of online strategies for student learning.
Remote student learning highlighted the extent of the digital divide in Jamaica and those students without access to an appropriate device and connectivity have not been able to access their lessons. Through the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information’s ‘Device for Every Child Programme’ and support from the private sector, many children accessed devices, but connectivity remains a barrier to education that needs to be urgently addressed.
Against the backdrop of ongoing school closures, and the lack of connectivity in many households and communities, the Jamaica Diaspora Northeast USA has partnered with local corporate foundations, Seprod Foundation and the Digicel Foundation to organise and roll out the Hotspot Corner Shop Internet Connectivity Fund.
The fund is to provide internet solutions for children and youth to enable sustainable remote learning, educational equity, and access.
The project also seeks to energise communities and to support local spaces found within the communities, foster and improve relationships between police, community leaders, influencers/youth, and develop social skills sets, according to a release announcing the partnership.
Said Dr Karren Dunkley, international educator and Jamaica Diaspora Northeast USA representative:
“Education still remains the great equaliser. Yet, most COVID-19 responses in education have magnified the persistent inequities in education systems. We cannot speak about equity for all students without ensuring access to internet connectivity and high-quality instruction.
“We must ensure greater levels of connectivity for our students in areas that have the greatest need, especially rural communities. Greater levels of internet connectivity will guarantee that our students have improved access to and benefit from virtual learning. We must deliver on the promise of education for our children.”
Charmaine Daniels, CEO of the Digicel Foundation, emphasized the foundation’s commitment to harnessing technology so that learning is streamlined and accessible to all students in Jamaica.
“We identified early on in the pandemic that connectivity would be a major issue for many students across the island. We’ve donated over 2,000 tablets, SIM cards and data plans, but we can’t stop there. Our students need our continuous support to stay connected. Partnerships like the Hotspot Corner Shop are bringing the technology where it is most needed; this is a real investment in real communities to help create a world where no one is left behind,” Daniels said.
Meanwhile, Melanie Subratie, chairperson of the Seprod Foundation, commented on the importance of partnerships like this in overcoming long term societal problems such as the digital divide.
“Together we can continue to break barriers to access to high-quality education for all Jamaican students. Seprod Foundation continues to work toward enhancing school and community digital infrastructure, while resourcing schools, teachers and students with the tools to see themselves as the developers and creators of technology. We need to ensure that our students are prepared for modern careers.”
Together, the partners are rolling out the initiative in five initial locations in Kingston and St Ann. With the launch of the month-long fundraising campaign being facilitated by the American Friends of Jamaica, the Hotspot Corner Shop Internet Connectivity Fund seeks to expand the programme, community by community, islandwide. Donations can be made at www.givehotspots.org.