MORE than 200 students in five West Kingston communities are receiving improved access to virtual learning spaces and equipment under a combined $11.6-million investment in tablets and technology centres donated by agencies of the United Nations in Jamaica.

Beneficiary communities are Tivoli Gardens, Denham Town, Hannah Town, ‘central’ downtown, and Fletcher’s Land.

The investments, made through the joint United Nations/Government of Jamaica project – ‘Strengthening Human Resilience in Northern Clarendon and West Kington’ – include 181 tablets valuing $6.1 million, funded via an allocation from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Multi Country Office in Jamaica; and technology retrofits to five community facilities through a $5.5-million grant, funded from allocations from UNDP and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The tablets, which were recently handed over to primary and secondary students, represents an increase in UNDP’s allocation to the joint human security project, and forms part of UNDP’s comprehensive support to Jamaica’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

According to the UNDP, the combined $11.6-million investment in tablets and virtual learning spaces have been strategically brought together to ensure that students hardest hit by access to learning as a result of the coronavirus pandemic are not further disadvantaged and left behind, impacting future human development.

In welcoming the donation of tablets, Member of Parliament for Kingston West Desmond McKenzie said the devices are being handed over at a time when many more students are asking for this kind of assistance. “It will energise many families who are struggling, especially those with only one phone to share for four or five children. It will give stimulus to those students who have already caught on the online revolution but are not in a position to afford a tablet or a smart phone, so today is an opportunity to expose the students to the advancing age of technology,” McKenzie said.

UNDP Programme Coordinator Alicia Bowen-McCulskie said the UNDP’s donation of tablets bolsters the West Kingston Virtual Learning Programme under which community facilities are being equipped with technology in partnership with community development committees. She said centres in Denham Town, Tivoli Gardens, Fletchers Land, Hannah Town and other areas have been handed over with earphones, broadband Internet connection, printing facilities and facilitators to deliver support to learning opportunities. Money has also been budgeted for the engagement of sanitation attendants and procurement of cleaning supplies for the resource centres to ensure adherence to COVID-19 protocols, Bowen-McCulskie disclosed.

She explained that the virtual learning intervention is a partnership with the West Kingston Community Development Communities, the Social Development Commission and the Human Security programme, which is in keeping with the programme objective of building the resilience of civil society organisations in responding to insecurities faced by their communities, including the coronavirus crisis.

The Strengthening Human Resilience in Northern Clarendon and West Kingston project, which started in 2018, is regarded as the first joint programme of United Nations Jamaica, combining the resources of six UN Jamaica members – FAO, PAHO/WHO, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UN Women – in addition to the UNDP-implemented Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme.

Jamaica Observer