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The summer — to be or not to be!

Aretha P

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

In my professional and personal capacities, whenever faced with a problem, my usual retort is: “There is a solution for every problem; the problem is to find the most appropriate one.”

As I read the suggestions put forth by a colleague educator that schools should embark on their Easter and summer breaks with immediate effect, due to our present predicament, my adage sprang forth. A problem definitely exists, but is that solution the most appropriate one?

The problem is a real one, and the suggestion is worth mulling over; however, all the variables must be closely examined.

The Education Regulation 1980 states in Section 6 (3), every public educational institution shall meet for classes not less than 190 days of each school year unless it is prevented from doing so for reasons approved by the minister. It is safe to say that this is an unusual circumstance that is affecting the lives of every single Jamaican, directly or otherwise. The focus at this time should not be about completing the 190 days, but to ensure that our charges are kept safe and engaged during this period. The evidence is overwhelming that all efforts are being employed to ensure same. The use of technology, the tenacity of our teaching corps, the guidance from the Ministry of Education, and the efforts of the very frustrated home-schooling parents are testament to this common vision.

The reservations for the full operations of school during the summer months of July and August are many, mainly anecdotal, but valuable, nonetheless. It is widely noted amongst educators that most of the fights among the student body occur towards the end of the academic year (June and July), and it is usually attributed to the oppressive summer heat. The students get easily agitated and are prone to get in squabbles with their peers. Then, the matter of the psychological shock of attending formal classes during what is typically a time of rest, relaxation and bonding. And that's just from the students' perspective. What about the school administrators and teachers?

The summer break is used by school administrators and staff to ready the physical plant, plan instructions, host training sessions, get some much-needed rest, etc. At what point would these vital back-to-school activities be completed?

Dare I mention the status of the contract workers employed by most schools to offer support to fill voids not covered by the ministry? The contracts usually expire at the end of June and are renewed at the start of each academic year. We would not be able to function efficiently and effectively without these individuals. The legal ramifications cannot be ignored.

We have to also mull over the fate of the 'terminal students', especially those at the primary level. They would be transitioning to secondary level education and would have been denied the opportunity to attend summer classes and acquaint themselves with their new environment; or simply to exhale after the demands of Primary Exit Profile. The secondary students are no different, far more is at stake.

Lest we forget, the parents! The summer break is used by parents to prepare for the upcoming academic year. Much time and effort are spent budgeting and shopping for uniforms, school supplies, fees, etc, to ensure that their children are properly equipped. Hence, the summer provides a minor financial respite for most parents; the absence of providing lunch money, bus fare, and normal everyday school expenses.

Clearly, my colleague wants a solution to a problem that is mounting daily, but the solution proffered needs to be revisited. The loss of school days is the least of our problems. Back to the drawing table!


Aretha P Willie is home-schooling mom and principal of George Headley Primary School. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or