Is the joy of 'inna a real life' worth the risk?

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Is the joy of 'inna a real life' worth the risk?

THIS PRINCIPAL'S POINT

By Aretha P Willie

Thursday, February 18, 2021

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He looked at me from head to toe, and with the full force of a category 3 hurricane he launched himself at me, and declared, “Miss Willie, mi a see yuh inna real life!” That was the reaction of a six-year-old, in October 2020, on seeing his principal 'in the flesh' for the first time, as all previous encounters were in the virtual space.

COVID-19 or not, his enthusiasm could not be contained. He had no thought or concern for safety. In that single embrace he had not only placed both our lives at possible risk, but that of both our households and everyone else in-between. That embrace was not the only one that I had received during that day. It is impossible for me to spurn the affections of any child, even though I am fully aware of the implications. I am certain that most educators share the same sentiment.

This incident has been playing over and over in my head as I attempt to process whether I am in support of the reopening of schools, or not. As an educator, I fully understand the absolute need to get our children back into the learning spaces. The benefits are immeasurable, unquantifiable, and unquestionable. But is it worth the risk?

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MOEYI), in an unusual show of brilliance, indicated that school administrators are to communicate with the relevant health department and state their readiness to be inspected. The Ministry of Health and Wellness, with the best of intentions, has crafted new standards. Unfortunately, they were well-kept secrets until the actual inspection. However, once the inspection is completed (noticeably on the second visit), and the facilities are deemed satisfactory, the principal then notifies the MOEYI and submits the health inspection reports and the implementation matrix. The implementation matrix requires a lot of repetitive information, and is extremely time-consuming. The impish side of me is ultra-curious to know which individual(s) have been assigned to read my school's matrix and all the hundreds of others. I suspect, no one.

After submission of the requisite paperwork, then the MOEYI will conduct its own risk-ranking analysis and, all things being favourable, will give its stamp of approval. Here ends that process, one thinks.

Alas, the real work just begins. It is here that I feel the pain of my hapless principal colleagues who, being the victims of self- and institutional-preservation, have designed indemnity waivers, because they know that the disingenuous acts of the MOEYI will spell disaster if any of their students contract the novel coronavirus after their institutions have reopened. Wrong move, colleagues.

“Inna real life” the school administrator will have to grapple with stakeholders who are impatient for the reopening and others who are very cautious, but both tugging at the end of a very tenuous rope called education. Then comes the matter of the resources, financial, especially, as the tranche is yet to be uploaded from December. How will the schools be able to purchase adequate amounts of sanitising agents, pay additional janitorial personnel, and procure services for deep cleaning, if necessary, among a host of unexpected expenses.

Have we given much thought about the staff members who suffer from one or more comorbidities? In my own context, more than a third of my staff has one or more comorbidity, including yours truly.

What will happen to the daily functioning of school if they become sick? Is it that every time there is a suspected case that the institution should shutter its doors for 15 days?

The cries about the students registered to sit the respective terminal exams are loud and persistent, as they should be. However, consultation and open communication should be paramount, and all concerned parties should be heard. It was quite unfortunate that, as a school administrator, I learnt of the postponement of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) exams via social media, and only received official communication from the MOEYI several hours later, inna real life.

My suggestion is that students be allowed to sit the ability and curriculum-based components, and surrender the performance task this time around.

The protocols have been written and preached, like an addition to the four gospels; however, I am concerned about the long-term maintenance of same. This is no easy feat. I have had up close and personal experiences at my sons' schools as the principals beg, threaten, cajole their charges, over the public address system to remember not to touch, maintain arm distance, fix the masks over noses and mouths, sanitise, and sanitise some more. This is done almost minutely. No doubt, the staff and others will ultimately buckle under the weight of these added responsibilities before COVID-19 gets a chance.

Despite all this, and more, I am still desperate for the MOEYI to 'fly the gate'. In the deepest recesses of my heart I know that this is not the best decision, but as the lyrics of emerging dancehall artiste Vershon's song says, “Man haffi give thanks inna real life, inna real life. A pray man a pray and a gwaan hold the faith inna real , inna real life.”

Aretha P Willie is a passionate educator, principal of George Headley Primary School, and a justice of the peace. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or arethawillie.ghps@hotmail.com.


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