“COVID-19 mash up everything” – my life without school

Facing learning loss, the impact of COVID-19 and constant violence, Damoie, age 17, wants to get back to school

Damoie Byfield
Photograph of Damoie Byfield, age 17, together with his sister 'Chia' at home in the community of South Side, Kingston.
UNICEF/2021
Damoie Byfield, age 17, together with his sister 'Chia' at home in the community of South Side, Kingston.
15 September 2021

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The only thing I can do now is just babysit my sister since I’m not going to school. I don’t have anything else to do. I prefer to babysit her then go out on the road and be around bad company.

She’s teaching me a lot. She’s smart – anything people say she’ll understand and tell you. She might not tell you clearly, but I understand her. I love her.

If I don’t carry her when I leave the house she bawls, but she needs to understand that things outside aren’t right, and we have to stay in, because it’s everywhere right now – the violence.

COVID-19 compounds impact of violence on learning

When violence is happening in the community it’s hard for you to study and focus because you’ll be sitting out by the door with your book recapping certain things and you hear a lot of shots start to fire, and that just replays in your brain.

I went to online classes for about two weeks. I didn’t have a device or anything to do the online classes – no WiFi, nothing. My mother met in a little accident where her hand was broken and they told her it would take two weeks to recover, so I used her phone.

But then my mother had to go back to work. She had to use her phone to do her business, so when she came home I couldn’t get any time to do the school work. The work was just piling up. That’s when I lost focus. I know that when it comes to tests I can do my schoolwork, but right now COVID-19 has just mashed up everything.

School as a safe place has been taken away

School is something that can occupy your time. School is a safe place to be in the daytime; for instance, police can’t catch you on the road and ask you how you aren’t in school, and you don’t mix up in certain things.

My message to others is that if you get a chance to go back to school, just go to school and do your schoolwork. If you can have an education, and have subjects, then nobody can have anything over you.

Education is the key in everything, right now, and forever. 

What's UNICEF doing?

Since the closure of schools in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Jamaica, approximately 120,000 children, as reported by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MOEYI), have been disengaged from learning. Schools have had little or no regular contact with these students. These children who have been lost to learning represent almost 25 per cent of the enrolment in public primary and secondary schools.  

Damoie faces the triple threat of learning loss, the impact of COVID-19 and constant violence in his community. He is getting support through a UNICEF-funded programme operated by the Peace Management Initiative (PMI). The Behavioural Mentorship Programme, known on the ground as ‘Save a Youth Life’, is designed to help children who are caught up in gun violence and who have been excluded from school. Read this previous blog post to learn more about how the programme has assisted Damoie.

UNICEF is calling on the government to intensify efforts to assess and provide targeted support for the 120,000 children who have been lost to learning. Read our recommendations published in The Gleaner recently.

About this blog

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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