Digital empowerment for distance education - Caribbean teacher stories: Jamaica

Haynese Carlyle is a classroom teacher at John's Hall Primary School in Jamaica. In an interview with UNESCO, she talks about her way of supporting children with special needs, the challenges of teaching during the pandemic-related school closures, and how the Distance Learning and Teacher Training Strategies in the Caribbean SIDS programme, implemented through UNESCO's Global Education Coalition in collaboration with Blackboard, the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning (CCEP), and UNICEF Jamaica, helped her adapt to the new online teaching environment.

Haynese Carlyle has been teaching for more than twenty years and especially enjoys teaching younger children. "They always put a smile on my face, and they are very eager to learn," she explains. Like most of us, the COVID-19 pandemic struck her by surprise.

"The most beautiful and rewarding thing about teaching"

“One of my students was having difficulties reading. He soon lost interest in reading, and started to disrupt the lessons. In response, I started showing him extra love and showed him that I cared about him. Because that is what is missing in the lives of most of these children: they need someone to inspire them and show them that they are loved, and that will in turn bring about a change in their behavior. 

Soon after, he started taking interest in reading and his reading ability improved. I realized that giving children the attention they need can have a positive impact on their learning so that they achieve their learning goals. And that is the most beautiful and rewarding thing about teaching. Even when he finished the school, he sometimes came back to me and told me that I was one of his best teachers for all the support I gave him.”

I realized that giving children the attention they need can have a positive impact on their learning so that they achieve their learning goals.
Haynese Carlyle, Class room teacher, Jamaica

"Things online were so different"


"COVID-19 caught us all by surprise. Since my school is in the rural Jamaica, Internet access is always a challenge. At the beginning of the pandemic and the related school closures, the only digital communication platform I knew was WhatsApp. It was difficult to communicate with my students, because not all of the parents had a smartphone, and for some, the phone would stop working or they would run out of data. For those without access to devices, the school provided learning kits with worksheets and left them at the school for the parents to pick them up and return them for marking. Some of the students' houses however were far away from the school, and some families didn't have the means to reach the school every day because they had to work.

Things online were so different. In the beginning, I did online what I would normally do in the classroom, such as games or singing to keep my students engaged. But often this was not as effective as in the classroom, so I had to think of other ways to keep the children engaged and focused.

Over time, I learned about different things through YouTube that can be used as teaching tools. Among teachers, we call each other and share ideas we learned from YouTube videos. This collaboration between teachers has helped me navigate my way into this "new normal"."

"I learned different online skills and methods"

"Recently, I started the Distance Learning and Teacher Training Strategies in the Caribbean SIDS programme with Blackboard through UNESCO's Global Education Coalition. I learned many things and I feel that I am more knowledgeable of different online skills and methods now, so I can now apply them to get desired results. I learned about the difference between the synchronous approach where we have live classroom sessions and the asynchronous way of teaching. One can design the lessons according to one's own schedule and pace. Also, I know now how to mute and unmute the microphone, and those little details.

I also like the approach that there are multiple assessments in the Blackboard course. The students can learn from their assessment and repeat the task until they grasp the concept for themselves."

Leaving No One Behind: "It's important to let the students know that we care about them."

"I have always heard about inclusion and practiced it as much as I could in face-to-face classes, but as far as online classes are concerned, I did not know all the methods to ensure that all students with disabilities are accommodated. Online, we are limited to some extent because we don't see students' faces, we don't notice their visual cues, and we don't know when they need help.

In the Blackboard course, I learned methods on how to integrate inclusive teaching into the online environment. I also learned that I can make personal videos to motivate them. To build the relationship, sometimes I also contact them by phone. It's important to let them know that we care about them."

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