MP Hugh Graham calls for move to better handle COVID-19 situation

Sunday, February 07, 2021

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One Member of Parliament (MP) has taken the bold step to call for the cancellation of the 2020-2021 academic year for Jamaica to better handle the challenges of COVID-19 and further protect the country's younger citizens as well as those who guide them.

Hugh Graham, first-time MP for St Catherine North Western, who staved off a valiant challenge by retired senior policeman Newton Amos to retain the seat for the People's National Party in the September 3, 2020 General Election, believes that shuttering schools is the natural thing to do.

In an opinion piece published in today's edition of the Jamaica Observer, Graham, who is also chief executive officer of Paramount Trading Company, argued that, “It is undeniable that the CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) and CAPE (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination) students who sat their exams in 2020 were greatly affected, and that the students sitting this year will be significantly affected as well. It is clear that numerous Jamaican students are at a loss, especially those not attending traditional high schools.

“Should we suspend school for this year? The personal account of a Jamaican educator for 20 years suggests that trying to push all students through the system, especially at this time, is more detrimental to society. Forcing students who do not have access to proper resources to continue schooling will only cause them to fall through the cracks,” Graham wrote.

The businessman suggested that additional energy ought to be invested in laying the foundation for a smooth take-off of the 2021-2022 school year, starting September, as to persist in the current atmosphere of uncertainty could lead to additional challenges and problems.

“Repeating the year is not the worst thing in the world. It is far better than having them try to keep up and ending up with unproductive citizens for many years later. For example, pre-COVID, this phenomenon is the reason we end up with children in high school who can barely read. The situation now is admittedly worse. On the other hand, a separate account was given by a doctor working in the medical field for over 15 years. A concern about the training and matriculation of the medical students, who have not been exposed to physical patients due to COVID-19, was shared. How does e-learning suffice for this? It indeed does not and cannot.

“Ultimately, some students managed to stay afloat, made the best of the school year, and even excelled, since March 2020, despite immense challenges. Their work cannot be erased or go unnoticed. However, the students whose education has been disrupted based on factors out of their control should not have to suffer any more than they already have. So, what is the solution?” he asked.

“The most crucial thing is levelling the playing field so every single student can matriculate with the same learning standard. We should use this time to develop more feasible, safe solutions to make physical school in September 2021 possible, for all students. The truth is, whether or not the pandemic is under control by then, maybe a gap year for students still grappling with various issues should be seriously considered,” Graham argued.

Those students, he suggested, should be allowed to repeat the year lost, without stigma or penalty, rather than being pressured to advance at the same time as the rest of their peers.

“Typically, students and parents believe the quicker one finishes school, the better. I am not necessarily of that belief,” Graham wrote.

Rushing the education process, Graham argued, could even result in lower returns from the education sector, and choke the opportunities of some.

“Studies have shown that children's cognitive and socio-emotional skill levels are good predictors of long-term outcome. For one, these are unprecedented times but, either way, there is no need to rush the educational process. Pushing the school year will inevitably highlight the fact that students poorly endowed with these skills tend to have lower educational attainment and poorer labour market prospects, and thus economic disparities in the future,” the MP said.

“The reality is, every country and its human capital has been severely impacted by COVID-19, so let us not panic. Instead of putting so much undue stress on these students, parents and guardians, let us allow them to focus on their mental well-being, rather than existing in a constant state of worry,” Graham suggested.

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