On Wednesday, the Minister of Education, her team of officials, teachers and non-teaching staff of all public and private schools are to meet to consider the weighty issue of the reopening of schools next term set for April 19.
As it stands, the scale appears tipped towards a return to the classroom.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George has recommended that students be allowed to do so, amid the clamour of the nation’s boys and girls to return to their desks. Last Friday Acting Director of Medical Services of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Dr Clyde Cave and a team of junior and paediatric doctors
His colleague Mary Redman, president of the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union, has been cautious.
One can certainly understand the positions of all sides. COVID-19 has been a disruptive force and not just for schools. While we are seeing a reduction in positive cases daily, we are very much aware that the danger lurks.
But there’s no mistaking the importance of school – not just virtual school taught online but physical school, the interaction between teachers and their students and students and their peers.
Still, we accept the decision is no light matter. Nothing about COVID-19 and learning to live with it is light.
Instructive to this discussion though should be a recent report from the United Nations Children’s Fund released earlier this month which examined the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on the Caribbean and Latin America.
According to the study, almost 60 per cent of all children who missed an entire school year due to COVID-19 lockdowns worldwide are in our part of the world. It pointed out that In the Caribbean and Latin America, many schools have remained fully closed for 158 days from March 2020 to February 2021 — longer than the global estimate of 95 days.
UNICEF says the loss of classroom instruction will “be more disastrous and far-ranging than in any other region for children, parents, and society at large”. Simply put, our region is facing a possible education deficit.
The report may not be too far off the mark. Teachers here have squarely put similar concerns on the table. They have highlighted that while virtual classes work for some of their charges. Not all children have access to the internet and the appropriate equipment. Not to mention some students lack the discipline and focus to stay engaged in front of a screen for hours on end and for those who need feedback from teachers and peers, there’s no substitute for the real thing.
We support the views of paediatric resident Dr Anja Greaves in making the case for a return to the classroom during last Friday’s virtual panel discussion.
Dr Greaves said: “We have not stopped other areas of our daily life. We continue to go to the supermarket; we continue to venture outside of our homes; the risk is the same. I would say once you continue to do all the protocols; you continue the mask-wearing; you continue the hand hygiene, the distancing; we can get through this and we can beat this and we can definitely get back to school.
“Studies have shown that transmissions in school clusters have been next to minimal.”
Reasonable arguments worth considering. And while we agree, we urge authorities in their deliberations to make appropriate arrangements for the reopening of schools that will ensure the safety of all — students, teachers and ancillary staff.
COVID-19 has forced us to be more innovative and that is a good thing. But technology can never replace our teachers.
So it’s time to put aside the usual posturing and staking of claims between union and employer. It is time to work together to return our children to the classroom.