Student doing online classes via laptop.

Some students are showing signs of “real stress’ with the hybrid education system including eyesight problems and headaches.

And there’s a need for serious intervention with students whose socio-economic situations are affecting their learning.

The concerns were raised during Wednesday’s Joint Select Committee’s interview with denominational school board leaders.

The JSC (on Social Services and Public Administration) headed by Paul Richards interviewed leaders on issues concerning the hybrid education system

Richards said it was noted that prior to the pandemic the Ministry of Education’s Social Support Services (SSS) unit was flooded with calls and are now getting more calls on socio-economic situations affecting students.

Presbyterian Primary Schools’ Board of Education general secretary Geeta Maharaj raised the question of what would happen with school staff, teachers and administrators who chose not to be vaccinated against COVID. She also said SSS officials are assigned to schools but in clusters serving several at the same time.

Maharaj said this isn’t working well as principals and teachers send “many many referrals” but the support isn’t there.

On students’ issues, she said these are behavioural or include students from backgrounds with socio-economic problems and students who aren’t monitored during the day and “get into all kinds of activities”.

Maharaj said some students are also “showing stress, real stress, physical as well with eyes and headaches, that kind of thing.”

Maharaj added one or two can’t be accounted for “…..And the contact numbers given for them don’t pan out and you can’t really visit unless you go to the police station and say we haven’t been seeing the student. Some SSS people try but they can’t find them. “

Maharaj recommended more guidance counsellors, officers and social workers.

St. Joseph Cluny Board of Education secretary Debra East said, “We have a similar situation in Cluny schools: students facing stress, not coping with online learning, feeling isolated and many of the issues we directed to SSS.”

“ The SSS has been very good in responding to a lot of concerns. They also implemented life skill sessions for students, but we’re concerned the SSS is overwhelmed.”

East said when issues are referred to SSS it takes very long for them to meet the students and resolve them.

”Sometimes weeks, by the time they get to students there are other interventions done by teachers with the student. Timeliness of SSS’ response needs to be improved very significantly.”

Secretary of Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of TT, Ravi Rambarran said Gandhi Memorial students all have devices for class but others in Barrackpore and Rio Claro due to socio-economic issues didn’t and some dropped out of school.

He said there is a minority who lack access to devices and connectivity. Rambarran said they struggled before the pandemic and it exacerbated their struggles – especially since working parents may not be home to supervise them.

Rambarran added, “It’s a question of resources. There has to be targeted surgical intervention to help this minority, you can’t expect teachers and principals in the system to deal with the fundamentals of socio-economic issues and school boards don’t have resources.”

Anglican Education Board representative Avion Alexander-Titus said packages aren’t working out well for early childhood “little ones” especially in homes with financial issues. She said the board still tried to contact the “unreachables ” and even if some had internet access and devices the situation may not work well for students if parents lacked education or things weren’t in place at home for learning. She said she suspected the whole process intimidates some parents who may not be educated.

Alexander- Titus expressed concern about SSS and the disparity in the level of attention by support services in some areas.