Government is to set up a mental health and wellness committee to assess the mental state of students who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the health restrictions over the past year.
The disclosure was made tonight by Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training Santia Bradshaw during a post-Cabinet Press conference in which she announced the resumption of face-to-face teaching in schools on a phased basis from Tuesday, April 20.
“We have taken the view, after much consultation with our Ministry of Health and Wellness, persons within the Psychiatric Hospital, a number of the counsellors who have spoken to both students as well as to parents and certainly to teachers over the course of this last year, that what is first important to us is to assess and to see where our students are,” Bradshaw said.
“And so, as we return to the classroom environment, it is our intention that we will establish a mental health and wellness committee to be able to look at how our children have fared during this period, as well as our teachers. And it is not something we want to do as a one-off…we want to ensure that we can follow the progress of these students and to provide the necessary support to them as well as to their teachers over the course of at least the next three years,” the minister revealed. She noted that it has not been easy for any of the parties to be able to cope with this transition.
She suggested that everything must be done to tackle an increase in mental health cases among students and teachers. She acknowledged that the ministry will not always get things right and will face challenges as it moves forward with trying to bring back some level of normalcy to the teaching and learning process.
Bradshaw also conceded that there has not been total consensus between the stakeholders and her ministry, but suggested that the resumption of person-to-person instruction was not about consensus but about ensuring the children do not lose any more instructional time.
“The time is now and I hope that I have the support of all of the stakeholders to be able to make this exercise work. It is not about asking me why now. I think most of you now have to be asking why it can’t be now…because there is no better time for us to do it. Our cases are down and I hope those cases continue to be down. We also know that the number of cases is quite low in relation to our children,” said the minister.
While noting that there are four weeks to go before school re-opens, Bradshaw said that the time should be used to discuss and to fine-tune the process. She asked that all Barbadians work with the ministry during that period to make things work.
She said she would not be detracted by those who want to drag her and the ministry into things that the country could ill afford at this time.
“I think we need to be unified. We need to appreciate each other’s concerns, but we need to work together to get our children back into school and our teachers back in the classroom environment. I hope that over the course of the next few days we can have the discourse continuing with the unions and all of our various stakeholders to ensure that we fine-tune the protocols that we have; that we work together to be able to get all the stakeholders on the same page,” Bradshaw urged. ([email protected])