Scores of protesting parents, guardians and students gathered at the Bay Street Esplanade just outside Government house on Saturday afternoon as they turned up the pressure on Government to reopen schools for full face-to-face learning.
Under the watchful eyes of members of the police force, the placard-bearing protesters, mostly clad in green, voiced their disapproval to the continued online teaching method, while demanding “we want to go back to school”.
“No more online!” chanted the children, as some drivers passing the area tooted their horns in support.
It is estimated that more than 57,000 of the island’s students are still engaged in online learning, and more than 5,000 children have never been in a classroom setting since they started their education.
Ministry of Education officials have already announced a February 21 date for the return of students to face-to-face teaching.
Organisers of Saturday’s peaceful protest said they were hoping Government would stick to its promised February 21 date for the return to schools.
They also criticised Government for allowing large sporting events including the recently concluded T20 match to take place, as well as in-house dining at restaurants, while students are made to stay away from the classroom.
Arlene Quintyne, PTA Chair for the Providence School and regional economist Marla Dukharan were instrumental in organising the Safely Open Schools Barbados petition, which is also garnering signatures – some 900 so far.
Quintyne said “we represent our children who don’t have voices. We represent parents of all the PTAs – public and private schools – and we just want to be a voice to say that our children want to get back in school now. We want to do it safely”.
“We see restaurants and businesses, hotels, air travel, people coming to the island to enjoy their vacation and we just feel it is unfair that our children can’t be made a priority to get back into the schools safely,” said Quintyne.
Highlighting the need for students to interact with each other, she also pointed out that many of them did not have the opportunity to have proper supervision at home to engage in online learning.
She insisted that there was no excuse for children and teachers not returning to the classroom setting, pointing out that this was done in the past and there were no cases of COVID-19 at the schools.
“We are doing it everywhere else, we are taking our children at restaurants and grocery stores and we don’t even know who is standing beside us if they are vaccinated or unvaccinated. So, I think we are doing now pretty good so we can do it in the classroom. Use your common sense,” she said.
Dukharan warned that the negative impact from students not being in the classroom could be devastating to their social development and to the economy.
She said the children suffering the most were those without internet connection or devices to take part in the online learning
“There are many children suffering from this digital divide and they are the ones that will fall behind the most. We want to do this for all children because all children deserve an education,” said Dukharan, who acknowledged that Barbados prided itself on education.
“It is unfortunate that it seem as though education is not being given the kind of priority now as other things such as cricket and election campaign parties. We feel this is not fair. Education should be one of the most important things as a developing nation,” said Dukharan.
Hopeful that the February 21 date would not change, Dukharan said she was heartened by news from the new Minister of Education Kay McConney that the proposed date was still likely.
However, Dukharan warned of possible impacts from the almost two years of not being in the classroom setting.
“The Caribbean and Latin America trails the rest of the world in terms of the education and learning gap that we have suffered during this pandemic. This is going to have severe long-term consequences on the economy, not just for Barbados but the whole region. We need to try to correct that as soon as possible and reopen and put kids back in school, and have a learning plan to get them caught up
“We have kids that are going to be writing the 11-plus exams, O’ level exams and A’ level exams in a matter of months and many of these children that I know of personally don’t quite feel they are ready. This is a serious thing. It is going to have consequences for a long time and that is the last thing developing countries need,” she said.
The organisers said they were pleased with the turnout, which attracted just over the 75 people initially expected, most of them being children.
Some parents and students told Barbados TODAY they were looking forward to face-to-face learning come February 21.
The protest, which started around 3 p.m. and lasted for about two hours, saw support from both public and private primary and secondary schools.
Dukharan said further action has not yet been contemplated should the February 21 date not met, but said they would be considering what the next move should be in such a scenario. (MM)