Last week, quite a few of our neighbouring CARICOM countries opened school doors to students to conduct face-to-face classes for the first time in a while.
Some took on a phased approach, with only a section of the student body reporting for physical classes while others attempted to engage the entire school roll.
Here are some extracts from media reports in some of the territories.
In Jamaica: “Administrators at a number of primary schools in the capital city beamed with joy Monday as their students returned for face-to-face learning that was disrupted by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The Government had indicated that all primary and high schools would begin reopening on January 3, 2022. To get approval for the resumption of face-to-face classes schools had to receive a health inspection and COVID-19-compliant report from the Ministry of Health and Wellness.” – Jamaica Observer
In Trinidad: “Physical classes have resumed only for Forms Four to Six students while the others are being taught via the online platform. On December 22, the Ministry of Education announced the phasing-in of more students back to physical school. Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said there were no major incidents reported to the ministry regarding the reopening of schools. National Parent Teacher Association president Zena Ramatali and Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association president Antonia Tekah DeFreitas also had no complaints from their members. – Trinidad Guardian
In St Vincent: “Like many institutions in the country, KPS has implemented a number of protocols to protect the school population from contracting COVID-19. These include sanitising upon entry, staggered mealtimes, and encouraging students to wear masks, as well as taking additional masks to school. This is the first time since 2020 that the entire student population of all schools in St Vincent and the Grenadines will be fully engaged in face-to-face instruction.” – The Searchlight Newspaper
Were there hiccups in some countries? Yes. Were there challenges? Yes. Did they have to do things differently? Yes. Did teachers and parents have concerns? Of course, they did.
Nevertheless, these countries must be commended for boldly taking the step, in the midst of rising COVID-19 cases and the Omicron variant, to ensure that young minds are repositioned for traditional classroom education.
It is heartening to know that they realise the importance of face-to-face classes that allow students to socialise and develop, and are willing to prioritise such.
We have heard from the beginning of the global pandemic that these are challenging times and that we must be willing to do what has to be done to continue to exist.
In Barbados, the education of our people has been key to our development for decades. And while some of our students were able to still garner knowledge during online classes, there remains a section of our school population that has not benefited since March 2020.
We have heard from the two main teachers’ unions and other agencies that there are some households without electricity, some without Internet access, and others without devices.
We have also heard that even some of those who are connected online have been constantly struggling to adjust to that format.
The issue made it to the political platform this week. Democratic Labour Party candidate, former BUT President Pedro Shepherd called for students to safely return to the classroom. He argued that online teaching has put students at a disadvantage.
He said: “I will maintain that we cannot continue to have our students at home online because too many of them are not online.”
The reality is our student population is also crying out to return to school.
It is not a position that is at variance with that of Government or our students. In fact, during a session on December 7, 2020, held with Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw at the Wildey Gymnasium, students were clear in their position.
Minister Bradshaw told the media: “It is fair to say that they want to return to school. It is not to say that there are not good things that have come from being in a blended approach or an online environment, but I think children are generally missing that interaction . . . . They miss that face-to-face with the teachers.”
Education authorities have since set January 24, 2022 as the tentative date for the resumption of face-to-face classes following the confirmation that the highly contagious COVID-19 variant, Omicron is here.
It is still to be reviewed. This media house understands that talks have been ongoing and a decision will be taken at a meeting on January 20.
As those talks continue, we urge authorities to learn from the best practices of their regional neighbours and others who have resumed classes to ensure our children return to school.
There can be no denying that the business of living must continue with this never-ending pandemic.
Certainly, the reopening of the entertainment industry and even the holding of a general election amid the prevailing epidemic is a clear indication that Barbados is prepared to do just that.
Hence, face-to-face instruction with the correct protocols and safety mechanisms should be sanctioned sooner rather than later.
Education is key. Future generations of Barbadians are depending on us to make sure that they are equipped with the same tools, most of us are privileged to have.