Toronto charity delivers hundreds of learning devices to Jamaican students during pandemic

A Toronto woman started a campaign to provide children in rural Jamaica with electronic devices so they could continue learning during COVID-19 school closures.

Campaign provides tablets, laptops for virtual learning

Students pose with the tablets and computers provided by World Class Jamaica. These learning devices are among the 300 that were delivered to students and teachers at 12 Jamaican schools between June 28 and July 2, 2021. (World Class Jamaica)

Hundreds of students affected by COVID-19 school closures in rural Jamaica can now learn online using electronic devices like cell phones, tablets and laptops, thanks to a Toronto-based charity. 

Heather Ricketts, the president and co-founder of World Class Jamaica, says rural communities in the Caribbean island nation have struggled to get access to technology for a long time.

"I think you could see what's referred to as the digital divide occurring in Jamaica, even before the need became as urgent as it has recently," Ricketts said.

"That was something we really wanted to fill."

300 learning devices delivered to Jamaican schools 

According to the charity's website, nearly 600,000 Jamaican students were affected by school closures during the pandemic — 30,000 of those children didn't have access to technology and couldn't participate in any distance education.

Ricketts came up with the campaign, called "A Device for Every Child," to try to change those numbers, she says. 

"There was tremendous potential in the classrooms, and we simply needed to bridge access and remove barriers to access for the students," Ricketts said.

A representative from World Class Jamaica teaches a student how to use his new laptop, part of the charity's 'Device for Every Child' campaign. (World Class Jamaica)

She set a goal to deliver 200 devices to Jamaican schoolchildren by the summer. With the help of monetary and in-kind donations, Ricketts's campaign obtained 300 cell phones, tablets, and laptops in four months.

The devices were given to students at 12 schools in Jamaica between June 28 and July 2. Ricketts coordinated with principals at the schools to make sure the delivery would be a surprise for students and parents. 

"When they came, there was a wave of emotion that struck both the teachers and the students- some had been removed from learning for an entire year," Ricketts said.

"A lot of them were, in fact, speechless."

Students and teachers pose with learning devices from World Class Jamaica delivered from Toronto between June 28 and July 2, 2021. (World Class Jamaica)

World Class Jamaica will be delivering devices to another school in the Caribbean country in September. 

In the meantime, Ricketts says they are fundraising to buy more devices. The charity is also collaborating with Canadian educators to install programs for the devices that will allow students to work both online and offline. 

She hopes to continue providing students with learning devices that will better give them the ability to "participate in the 21st century." 

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With files from Dwight Drummond