The head of the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU) has urged parents not to hesitate to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19, saying this will give them their best shot at quality and stable education for the first time in two academic years.
BSTU President Mary Redman issued a plea to parents to seek credible information about the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine in the interest of protecting their children from the physical and residual impact of the virus.
But even as the National Parent-Teacher Association (NPTA) backs the jab, General Secretary Nicole Brathwaite suggested that parents must retain their right to refuse the vaccine without fear of being disadvantaged in the classroom.
Children’s doses of the American-manufactured vaccine are to be made available for children ages 12 to 18, from Friday, at seven sites across the island.
Expressing unequivocal support for the decision, Redman noted the gross deficiencies of online teaching that have left students virtually in limbo as they face key examinations at the primary and secondary level ill-prepared.
She told Barbados TODAY on Thursday: “This should be very important in attempting to effect some measure of normalcy in our schools again. Despite the best efforts of teachers, students and parents, for a variety of reasons, the online modality has resulted in serious teaching-learning deficits at all levels.
“COVID has also affected the assessment of our students, with impacts on 11-plus and far greater impacts on CSEC and CAPE, where approaches to the content and structure of those exams, both in 2020 and 2021, have not adequately responded to the realities of education during a pandemic.
“And then there is the whole question of the socialisation function of the school. That function is one that has been negatively impacted by how we have had to structure education during the pandemic.
“A vaccinated student body, ideally, would be largely face-to-face again and that important function, that of socialisation of our young, would readily occur again.”
She added that even the inability of students to mix and mingle in a traditional school setting has hampered their ability to grasp important concepts like teamwork, group interaction, conflict resolution, and respect for people’s differences.
“All of the things that schools cannot do online and which have been missing from our education process since COVID, our attempts to fill the gaps in a modified education approach during COVID in these areas have not been successful,” Redman said. “Vaccinations would allow some resumption of normalcy in our school system and, very importantly, to allow children to again be with each other.”
The impact of the pandemic is particularly difficult on students who entered the secondary school system in 2019 and 2020, as they have had very limited exposure to education at that level.
“Any hesitancy can be resolved by research by parents of credible sources that would show, in a nutshell, that these vaccines were tested on tens of thousands of people before first doses were administered to the public, and that COVID is a strain of the SARS MERS virus that has been around and studied for a long time,” Redman declared.
“We have also seen that children are increasingly vulnerable to these mutations, especially the Delta variant, which we have seen the effect of in India and in other countries across the world, including the US, with its consequent effect on children. We have read of the Paediatric ICU in some states being full of very ill children because of this variant.”
When contacted, the NPTA’s General Secretary declared that as an organisation, they were sold on the benefits of inoculating children, but maintained that the ultimate decision must always rest in the hands of parents.
The association also plans to facilitate direct dialogue between parents and healthcare professionals to place them in the best position to make informed decisions on the matter.
“From all of the professional reports, from the pediatricians, the doctors, the Ministry of Health persons and so on, they have more than emphasised that the benefits outweigh the risks, but, ultimately, the decision is in the hands of parents as to what they do with their children and we are satisfied that children who are not vaccinated would not be excluded from the classrooms and will still benefit from face-to-face if face-to-face is what we have come September,” Brathwaite said.
“Face-to-face classes is what they are working towards; that is the ultimate goal, and to have that extra sense of safety with the vaccination on board with all the other protocols which would still have to be maintained until we have passed or exited the pandemic.”
Brathwaite explained that over the last 18 months, parents have been fighting personal battles, like unemployment, amid the various methods of teaching, sometimes with little knowledge or access to technology.
“But you can also say positively that they were able to observe and see what kind of learners their children are, get a better understanding of what it takes to teach their children and to get their children to understand certain things,” she added. (KS)