Reopening schools amid COVID-19

Reopening schools amid COVID-19

Monday, August 03, 2020

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For the great majority of Jamaicans there can hardly have been any experience quite as testing as the ongoing COVID-19 health emergency.

With hundreds of thousands of children, from infancy to late teens, due for school in September, we can safely say everything is about to get even tougher.

Some school leaders and the Ministry of Education would have had useful lessons with classroom sessions and actual external exams in June/July.

No doubt that experience has guided comprehensive guidelines which, we note, have been circulated.

Indications are that, even with there being limited resources, equipment and resource support for schools are in train.

Education Minister Mr Karl Samuda has been reported as saying that Government has provided all public education institutions with additional sums of between $500,000 and $1 million towards intensified preparations for the upcoming school year.

We are told that secondary schools have also been provided with $600,000 each for furniture, while the ministry is also buying tables and chairs for primary schools.

“This provision is in addition to the regular grants provided to schools in April and June, which amount to over $2.8 billion,” Mr Samuda said.

A huge challenge will be how schools — many of which were overcrowded before COVID-19, with more than 40 students to a classroom in some cases — deal with the social/physical distancing protocols.

There has been talk that some schools which had come off the two-shift system may have to revert for a while. Others may also have to consider shift as a temporary option.

We note that some churches are making space available for students and teachers from neighbouring schools. Partnership arrangements have also been made with some private schools for accommodation.

Even with all that, some students will continue to utilise online distance learning.

As Wi-Fi capacity becomes more widespread and reliable, the use of online learning is certain to grow by leaps and bounds.

There was considerable reach after the COVID-19 lockdown four months ago, but we are told by the Ministry of Education that at least 30,000 children remained outside the circle.

Attention must be paid to this aspect in the short term, especially since some students and staff with respiratory and related health conditions can't wear masks and will have to work from home.

In that regard, we note a story in yesterday's Sunday Observer suggesting health care will be a worry, given a shortage of school nurses.

That sounds like a problem that won't be speedily resolved. It seems to us that available resources simply do not exist to provide adequate health personnel at every school.

An elephant in the room will undoubtedly be transport arrangements. How does the society move to ensure even minimal social/physical distancing in protection of children, many of whom have to travel unreasonably long distances in buses and taxis, to and from school?

It will be crucial that, more than ever before, community leadership, parents, et al, stay close to their schools and promptly move to provide support as needed.

It will help if at all times adults remember that the interests of children must come first.


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