WEDNESDAY, JULY 01, 2020: PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO – “We are now ready to be part of online learning.” This was the sentiment expressed by Dianne Le Cointe, Principal of the Happy Haven Special School after receiving tablets for students with special needs in Tobago. The COVID-19 pandemic forced education systems into virtual learning globally. However, this posed a problem for children who did not have access to the necessary equipment and technology needed to adapt to this unprecedented change. While plans to support students from mainstream schools became a priority, the Digicel Foundation intervened to provide assistance to special needs schools.
To mitigate the immediate impact of dismissed classes, particularly for the special needs community, and to facilitate the continuity of schooling through remote learning, the Digicel Foundation partnered with 23 special needs schools to launch “Connecting You” on June 26 in Trinidad and June 29 in Tobago. At the launch, 23 special needs schools received 1,095 tablets for 991 students and 104 teachers. Students without access to connectivity also received three months’ free unlimited data courtesy Digicel.
Minister of Education, The Honourable Anthony Garcia sent video greetings to endorse the project. He reinforced that “Education is everyone’s responsibility.” He praised the Digicel Foundation for their initiatives which continue “to exemplify the way in which Public Sector and Private Sector can collaborate for the benefit of the nation.” He added that “Connecting You will allow for the ministry to achieve its goal of access, equity, quality and good governance through inclusive education.”
Speaking at the event in Trinidad, Sacha Thompson, Corporate Secretary, Digicel Foundation explained that “Connecting You” closes the gap that special educators have been experiencing with alternative learning during this COVID-19 era. Also endorsing the project via video message was Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, Minister of Social Development and Family Services thanking the Foundation for allowing her Ministry to fulfil their motto of “Helping, Empowering and Transforming Lives’.
Dianne Le Cointe, the Principal for Happy Haven School, who spoke on behalf of the Tobago schools shared, “By heavenly intervention our friends from the Digicel Foundation stepped up to the plate. We are part of online learning. It’s our prayer that other corporate bodies can take a feather out of their cap to support students with disabilities.”
Present at the launch event were principals from 6 out of the 23 special needs schools: Lady Hochoy, Arima, New Beginnings, Wharton-Patrick School, Life Centre, Palmera’s Learning Centre, Rio Claro Learning and Development and Goodwill Industries. Over in Tobago, both beneficiary schools attended, the Tobago School for the Deaf and Happy Haven School.
The Digicel Foundation invested TT$695,250 to purchase the devices for the schools. The Foundation has spent the past eight years supporting, and implementing programmes that advocate for inclusion and improve opportunities available to persons with special needs.