Giving a voice to children in this pandemic

[Scroll down to watch the video of Janella’s winning report]

Television Jamaica (TVJ) journalist Janella Precius won the UNICEF Award for Excellence in Reporting on Children’s Rights at the 2020 Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) Awards for her reporting on the impact of school closures on children. More than one year later, with face-to-face learning still suspended except for those sitting exams, Janella reflects upon the experience.

I was motivated to tell this story because I thought it necessary to highlight the gaps in the education system as the country moved in the direction of remote learning. I questioned whether any thought was put into closing schools at the time. The authorities in my view took a “one size fits all” approach. Fact is that no child should be left behind when it comes to education and I knew, due to factors like poverty and access to telecommunications, hundreds, possibly thousands of children would have been disadvantaged.

As a storyteller it is my job to give a voice to the voiceless, and so I chose to tell the story through children. We’d heard what the officials had to say, they were confident in the measures they’d put in place for continued learning, they were also very certain they would work, and they did, in homes where all the children had devices and internet connectivity. I wanted to highlight that. Equally though, it was necessary to report on the challenges faced by children who were not as fortunate.

Reporting to help change children’s lives

All the children with whom I interacted showed so much promise. It was evident in the way they spoke and the way they expressed themselves. There was a genuine passion for learning. I was impressed!

Photograph of Television Jamaica (TVJ) reporter Janella Precius winner of the Press Association of Jamaica 2020 UNICEF Award for Excellence In Reporting On Children's Rights and Ross Sheil, UNICEF Jamaica Communication Officer - Digital Media
Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ)Television Jamaica (TVJ) reporter Janella Precius winner of the 2020 UNICEF Award for Excellence in Reporting on Children’s Rights, receiving her award from Ross Sheil, UNICEF Jamaica Communication Officer – Digital Media at the annual Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) Awards.

The reaction was also impressive. Despite the uncertainty plaguing the country during the initial stages of the pandemic, there was an outpouring of support for the children we featured from rural Jamaica. Citizens donated electronic devices, cash and telecommunications provider Digicel also donated credit in order for them to access lessons.

The best feeling for me as a journalist is knowing I’ve made an impact or I’ve influenced change in someone’s life, for the better of course! Naturally they were ecstatic to be on tv and from what they told me they had become instant superstars among their friends.

Right now I’m happy to report that the children are doing great. They have the resources they need for online learning and because they are all preparing for exams and as such were among those who could restart face-to-face classes.

Education sector needs more support

Telling this story made me think that the private sector can play a greater role in education by way of providing scholarships, adopting schools, helping with the feeding programs, assisting with the physical structure of schools, providing mentorship. Government cannot do it alone and I’m also thankful for international donor support from organisations like UNICEF.

It’s been one year since schools officially closed. I’m saddened that due to circumstances beyond their control there are children who haven’t benefited from formal education during this period. I shudder to think about what lies ahead for them, given that there’s no end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic. The children featured in my story however are preparing for external exams and have been attending face-to-face classes. They are eager for it to be over with because the preparation has been intense. Yet they are looking ahead to the next chapter with great optimism.

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