Dr Kasan Troupe says the Ministry of Education, while still in the throes of ensuring that students who have been forced from classrooms because of COVID-19 still receive lessons, is now planning for the new school year in September.
Schools across the island were ordered closed on March 13, three days after the first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed locally. The ministry then kick-started a mixed modality emergency remote-teaching approach using online education, televised education, and learning kits in a bid to keep its over 500,000 students in the public school system engaged.
Speaking on Sunday during a teleconference dubbed ‘COVID-19: Impact on children and families in the Caribbean, now and beyond’ staged by The University of the West Indies, Mona, on Sunday afternoon, Dr Troupe, the acting chief education officer, said the ministry is now “looking at resumption plans”.
“This is a major one for us because we still have to observe the social distancing, so we have to ensure that our schools are cleaned. They have been shut down for a while, so deep cleaning has to take place,” she said, adding that transportation and the logistics involved also need to be addressed.
“Some areas are more fortunate than others, but we have to think about those things — how we navigate that,” Dr Troupe stated, noting that consideration is being made regarding, among other things, special transportation arrangements to reduce exposure for students.
She said the question of whether school should resume at once, wholesale, is another question being mulled.
“Do we do a staggered resumption? Do we do a shift? Do we rove? Do we do a blended approach? Do we support the hybrid model where there’s some amount of physical face-to-face interface and online?” Dr Troupe asked, pointing out that those are questions educators have yet to answer.
She said, whatever the outcome “the online modality is here to stay, so we just have to look [to] see how best we can make this work”.
In the meantime, she said “social distancing is key going forward”.
“We will be maintaining our partnership with the Ministry of Health to make sure that we never compromise those standards, because the life of every child matters. This is the new normal. Health and wellness are priorities,” Dr Troupe noted.
She said in the interim, the education ministry will be assessing the resources of schools to allow for a smooth resumption.
“We have in excess of 500,000 students in our school system, so we have to consider that. We have to look at additional wash stations in our schools, we have to do an audit to see if they are sufficient, we have to give additional resources to deal with the sanitisation throughout the day. We have to review exam policies, we have to look at [whether] our grade 11, 12, and 13 students resume? How will that look? How will they gather? How do we seat them recognising the six-feet-apart [physical distancing protocol]. How do we feed them recognising that they can’t gather. These are some of the things we are thinking about,” Dr Troupe said.
Among the other details to be ironed out are daily mechanisms to monitor staff and children who may become ill, temperature screening, ensuring that all staff and students are equipped with hand sanitisers and masks, and developing formalised after-school programmes with trusted providers.
In the meantime, Dr Troupe said the Ministry of Health and Wellness has developed an Education in Emergencies Administration Guideline that addresses how, for example, principals will counter the day-to-day operations of schools that require physical presence such as marking attendance.
On Sunday, Dr Troupe who hailed several school personnel for their innovative approach and creativity in ensuring that students were not stranded, said while “education in emergencies is a difficult time for every country” once all stakeholders pull together it can be done.
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