Hundreds of students in Early Childhood Institutions islandwide have stepped into the future of learning, with Smart Boards provided by the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund.
Ninety boards have been provided to 35 schools at a cost of roughly $55 million, under the Fund’s Technology Enhancement Programme. The programme, which was established before the pandemic, found further relevance with the reality of wide-scale distance learning.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at the CHASE Fund Billy Heaven, who sat down with JIS News, says the effects of the pandemic echo across multiple sectors. “While you can see the impact of COVID on health right away with people getting sick, being hospitalised and quarantined, there is also a significant impact on education in general and early childhood education to be specific,” he says.
Assessing the Loss on Early Childhood Learning
While CHASE explores commissioning a study on the impact of the coronavirus on early childhood education, the Fund has continued work to make up for the lost time. “Kids have lost not only hours in school, but they have missed out on learning a great deal. If the facilities were not there before to accommodate online learning, even now it is difficult for three- to six-year-olds to use this method,” he says.
The Technology Enhancement Programme is focused on optimising student learning, by introducing technology to the classroom. Project Manager at CHASE Mrs Latoya Aquart-Foster says the Fund saw the need to assist infant schools with interactive whiteboards to improve the quality of the learning experience. “They can see visuals, hear sounds, go on the screen and with the touch of a finger, they can move an object from left to right. Before COVID the focus was on interactive whiteboards. Since COVID, we have broadened the technology enhancement program to include tablets and printers for the schools,” she says.
The CHASE Fund has provided over two thousand tablets to schools since the pandemic, valued at over $50 million. Mrs Aquart –Foster says the whiteboards distributed in the years before, have the capability to connect to the tablets.
Leaving No Child Behind
With the aim of leaving no child behind, she notes that where students and schools were unable to benefit from the smartboard or tablets, the programme provided other necessities. “There are some students who live in an area without any sort of internet connectivity. They would still need to receive learning tools and supplies. What we did was to provide some schools with printers and a supply of paper and toners that will last them for a period of time. This will allow them to print materials for the children who may not be able to access the internet on a tablet,” she informs.
Some of the schools that have received whiteboards include Bethel Infant in Hanover, Mandeville Infant in Manchester, Providence Heights Primary and Infant in St. James, Arcadia Primary and Infant in St. Thomas, Frankfield Primary and Infant in Clarendon, St. Michael’s infant in Kingston, Seymour Edwards Infant in Clarendon and Friendship Primary and Infant in Westmoreland.
CHASE will continue its initiative with another 23 whiteboards to be installed in schools across the island, which will bring the total to 113. For the provision of printers, schools located in deep rural communities with little to no internet access were targeted. These include Boundbrook Infant School in Portland and St. Agnes Infant School in Portland, Upper Rock Spring Infant School in Hanover and Hillside Primary and Infant in St. Mary.
Assessing School Infastructure
Pre-assessment of schools is also done to ensure the smartboards and printers can fulfil their intended purpose. “[For receiving smartboards] there would have been those schools that have an active internet connection. We would also take note of other needs for instance security grills for the school. We would do minor works such as tiling the room and installing new windows so when the child goes in that room, they should be like, ‘yes, I’m ready to learn now,” she expresses.
Project Officer for Education at CHASE Ms Shannon Guthrie says in some cases, should the internet capacity of a school not be up to standard, CHASE will increase it.
“We don’t go anywhere without being prepared to go beyond what the initial intent was. It’s not just a whiteboard that schools are getting. We look at the addition of the whiteboard as an addition to the classroom setting,” she says. Ms Guthrie also says schools were selected based on data indicating the wants and needs of institutions from the Early Childhood Commission (ECC) Database.
“For the smart boards, we look at schools that are close to achieving early certification by the Early Childhood Commission among other criteria, and then decide that they were suited for a smartboard based on the fact that most of their immediate and basic needs have been met,” she explains.
CHASE Invite Applicants Needing Technology Improvement
Though recommendations are accepted from the ECC, CHASE does invite applications.
“Persons can always write to CHASE for something as small as a desktop printer to maybe building an entire school. That’s the level of assistance that we give and so we’re open to persons applying. We’ve actually had schools apply for the smartboard programme,” says Mrs Guthrie.
Mrs Aquart-Foster says interested persons can also make contact with the fund for guidance on preparing proposals. “You can just make contact with CHASE and we can flesh out a proposal but it’s important to look at our website, as it has a lot of information on it. It also provides details on the eligible entities, which at CHASE there is a focus on infant schools,” she says.
As part of its continued response to the effect of the pandemic on early childhood institutions, the Fund has also allocated $75 Million to do sanitation projects.
Ten million dollars was also allocated towards the provision of learning kits and close to $1million for the training of parents in how to better assist their children in light of the pandemic.
The CHASE Fund which has been in operation for 20 years, is a government entity that provides funding support to projects and programs in the areas of Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education.