The sky is not falling!

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The sky is not falling!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

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Having survived one week of the delayed academic year 2020- 2021, where tensions and anxieties remained at fever pitch throughout, I am a survivor. Absolutely no one was fully prepared; there are far more grey areas than black and white ones. From the umpteenth crash course training sessions to the issue of tablets and other devices, service providers and connectivity issues, psychosocial support, modified curriculum, diagnostic tests, nutritional concerns, financial struggles, etc. The Chicken Littles amongst us are having the time of their lives. They live to scream, “The sky is falling!”

It's quite easy and even appropriate to be a Chicken Little at this time; seemingly, the negatives are more than the positives. However, I will have none of it! Dressed in a cape (PPE), mask, sanitiser in hand, 'teacha' tablet up and running, I want to ease the burdens, slay the soothsayers, and find all the positives, and if not possible to relive the memories of back-to-school past.

The first day of each academic year is my absolute favourite. Everything's new. Every parent, child and member of staff buzz with excitement and tenacity to meet any challenge. We convince ourselves that the new clothes, shoes, bags, books are guaranteed to ensure success. We step out in style and confidence every September. We maintain our momentum until the shoes, bags, and books become a little worn, and the clothes become a little faded. But onward we march.

Academic year 2020-2021 should be no different, really. The opportunities are endless. Certainly, since March, we have become intimate with the likes of Zoom and Google Suite; they accompany us to the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and every other nook and cranny in our homes. The teachers are literally up in our faces, still with their demands for our attention, the waiting lists of assignments, and the well-meaning threats; they have certainly torn down the walls of the physical classroom spaces.

As educators, we have mastered the four C's — creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking — in these past few months. We can handle any platform, download videos and documents, send out messages using any medium to the harried parents, create and record our own instructional videos, and generally conquer any new technologies. We can now prepare lessons and engage our pupils synchronously and asynchronously. Dun know!

We have far more 'real' contact time; no stoppages for behaviour modification or collecting lunch money, or granting permission for bathroom visits, or going to the office for printing, or answering the phone calls from unengaged parents. Finally, we can teach to our hearts content.

The proceeds from extra lessons are missed by most teachers, but the usual expenses have been significantly reduced. The usual newness now replaced by sameness. Last year's clothes looking good on video, with a lighting and stage to rival any Hollywood movie set! Definitely no need for shoes or handbags. The multitude of training sessions and meetings that we would be required to attend by the Ministry of Education would cause some to scurry to the shopping malls, but not so now. Ready and waiting in our 'good-up, good-up' yard clothes. No money spent on bus fare or to top up our tanks for our hire-purchased motor vehicles. We can ingest all our overnight food without hiding from our students and colleagues. Sunday rice and peas still fresh on Thursday!

Whether we have connectivity or not, just about every home owns two or more devices these days. Agreed, that connectivity would be great, but let's collectively continue to beseech the master to disturb the feelings of solace and sense of accomplishments of our two major providers. I suspect that they are being deliberate and strategic; they are waiting until the Ministry of Education and all its partners distribute the 40,000 tablets before they 'click' the icon or flip the switch. They, too, have been sold on the ministry's mantra, but with minor amendments: Every Child Can Learn and Every Child Must Learn, when Flow and Digicel seh so.

Do I need to mention my kryptonite? The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. I will say unreservedly that they are consistent in their efforts. They are consistently unprepared, consistently making promises, consistently providing inadequate resources, and consistently making announcements and pronouncements that are light years ahead of our reality. But, I, along with every other school administrator, will consistently make them look good, by Maslowing before Blooming!

Ecclesiastes 3: 9-11: “What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Parents, students, fellow educators, and other stakeholders of the Jamaica education system, let's be patient with each other. Let's exercise kindness, love, and humility in these challenging times. The impact of this pandemic is far-reaching and threatens to upend our very existence if we don't create ways to conquer it. Let's exhale by stopping to laugh at ourselves. But, best of all, let's pray. It works every time. It behoves every one of us to seek out the positives. It will get better. The sky is not falling!

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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