Home layout major hurdle to learning
Children living in inner-city communities are disproportionately disadvantaged because their homes – many with small, cramped rooms –mitigate against comfortable learning, education experts have observed.
“Under a tree, in bed, on the verandah, in the market, in a bar, on the roadside where they can pick up the Internet or on their couch.”
Those are some of the places children have been showing up for online classes, principal of Maxfield Park Primary School, Tracey-Ann Holloway-Richards, has revealed.
Conditions like those have added to the complications of teaching in the COVID-19 era which has recorded alarming learning deficits, sparking a warning from the Jamaica Teachers’ Association that recovery to pre-pandemic levels may take up to three years.
Holloway-Richards, whose school sits between the gritty urban corridors of Maxfield and Waltham Park avenues, said it was important for children to have designated learning zones, preferably indoors, that are free of loud talking, cursing, and smoking.
“They do not have the luxury of a proper home environment. They live in crowded homes with noise,” the principal said, lamenting the everyday reality of many students.
The call for dedicated learning spaces has also come from Maureen Samms-Vaughan, professor of child health, child development and behaviour at The University of the West Indies, Mona.
That recommendation has been stirred by last month’s revelation by Education Minister Fayval Williams that 25 per cent of Jamaica’s students are not attending school consistently, or at all, owing to illness or lack of interest.
Samms-Vaughan asserted that the pandemic has eroded the physical and cultural structure that defined the parameters of school.
“Children at one end of the socio-economic spectrum in Jamaica have their own room and their own desk,” said Samms-Vaughan.
“They have always had learning spaces, but other children have sometimes used learning spaces in communities like homework centres, but those are not operating how they used to and children are finding learning spaces in their homes.”
In homes where there are a number of occupants and insufficient space, some children have resorted to the outdoors. Play areas should be strictly defined, the professor said.
Samms-Vaughan highlighted the academic consequences of not having a dedicated learning space.
“You are less able to focus and pay attention, so it takes longer to learn the material,” she said.
Samms-Vaughan said that going over the material may lead to frustration, adding to children’s mounting irritation over the absence of social interaction with peers.
Further, she said children do not learn individually, but rather, communally in a classroom.
“Hearing what their friends are saying, picking up on their friends’ reactions. It’s amazing how much children learn from each other,” Samms-Vaughan told The Gleaner.
The child development professor pointed out that additional adjustments in the learning space may be required for children with disabilities. These include improved lighting for the visually impaired and limiting noise distractions for the hearing impaired.
Meanwhile, principal of Cumberland High School Darien Henry said his students are known to huddle at quiet spaces away from the home setting, even under trees, because of ear-splitting music and loud-talking family members.
He acknowledged that the dynamics of the Jamaican homes are often a poor fit for students.
“Many parents, guardians, or family members would have to choose between buying a desk and buying food and data. Some home settings are not conducive to this, when you take into account multiple family members who live and commune in the same space,” Henry said.
However, he said that if parents are eager for their children to learn, they will retrofit their space, even if they do not have the trappings of desks or computers.
“A specific workspace by itself cannot optimise learning virtually. It must be coupled with self-discipline, self-directed responsibility on the part of students, and good family support,” the St Catherine-based principal said.
Camecia Vassell’s 17-year-old son, who is a sixth-form student, has a desk and chair in his bedroom.
The mother of two shared that her three-year-old daughter still attends face-to-face classes.
She has observed the benefits of providing her child with a dedicated learning space.
“That space gives my child a feeling that he is still in school. It allows him to focus, while still feeling the freedom to be creative, be comfortable and happy,” Vassell said.
Features of acost-effective
1. Good lighting.
2. Fresh air.
3. Comfortable chair with back support.
4. Desk – dining table, computer desk or outside table.
5. Reduced visual distraction – make a three-sided cardboard structure which is to be placed in front of the child.
5. Organisation – containers with stationery.
6. Engagement with parents – supervise in a positive and encouraging way.