Will the village respond positively to address COVID-19 educational woes?

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Will the village respond positively to address COVID-19 educational woes?


Friday, August 14, 2020

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I stumbled over an article regarding our response to education that was sent in an educational chat group. I feel is very thought-provoking at this time. The article informs the reader of an activity a teacher did with a group of students. The students were each asked to blow a balloon and write his or her name on it. The balloons were then tossed and 'mixed up', and then the students were instructed to find the balloon with their names. Five minutes was allotted to the activity, but at the end of the period no one was successful in finding their own balloon.

The teacher then revised the instructions and asked the students to take the balloon closest to them and give it to the person whose name is on it. Needless to say, the activity ended in two minutes. The teacher discussed what she thought was the moral of the activity. I am sure that several thoughts will occur to you in terms of the lessons from that simple activity.

In reflecting, I thought of the current Jamaican approach to assisting the educational institutions in Jamaica and, by extension, the children who are being prepared to form our workforce tomorrow. I believe we have to understand that we all need each other to survive. We need to revert to the era when we had closely knit communities that understood the need to get involved in shaping people's lives positively. Communities in which social ties and social interaction are guided by a sense of traditional and moral responsibility is what I believe characterised the rich Jamaican community spirit. This may be similar to the values and beliefs common in what is termed 'Gemeinschaft', and if we ever need this community spirit it is now.

The African adage, “It takes a village to raise a child” solidifies the approach that I believe is quintessential in educating our nation's children. A tripartite relationship which includes the home, school and community is what I posit will help to deal with most of the educational woes that have been inherited from COVID-19.

As a school administrator who is integral in the preparation for 'back-to-school', I believe it is relationships or partnerships that will address our problems. The Ministry of Education has proposed at least four modalities to engage children for the 2020/2021 school year. Each of the modalities is in no way a panacea for any institution to satisfy the needs of all the students and parents in this pandemic. What is for sure is that each institution can only choose a modality that can rectify most of the already identified challenges. The community and home are, therefore, called upon to assist in dealing with issues that the school will not be able to deal effectively with, given the constraints in each institution.

Parents are understandably concerned about the monitoring of children at home during online interface, especially if they are not home to support the children. I empathise with these parents whether in the public or private space, because they are faced with a real challenge of providing for their children and seeing to their security, as not every employee has the option of working from home.

It is a reality that some company policies may constrain some organisations to shelf the idea to support the school system at this time. After all, they do not want to face lawsuits by having children in the workplace. However, here is the dilemma. The students we prepare today will join the workforce tomorrow. This is therefore an opportune time for companies to assist in shaping the workforce which will require them to relax policies, even for one school term.

Organisations must help to lead the charge in helping our nation to become more serious about education. Employers need to identify areas in the workplace that are safe spaces to host the children of staffers who need to be online. These companies, in return, could get Internet incentives to be able to function effectively in hosting the children.

After conducting a proper 'readiness analysis', community centres, if found fit and proper, could also be used to accommodate the students in the areas in which the centres are located. Members of Parliament could liaise with trusted members of the communities identified to volunteer to monitor the 'community online school sites'. Retired teachers without underlying issues could be given a stipend to develop intervention programmes to accommodate children who need extra support.

I would also like to include a word of caution. It is vital to note that the wider the circle, the more exponential the risk of transmission and the greater the degrees of difficulty to conducting contact tracing. Therefore, COVID-19 protocols must be adhered to in an effort to guarantee the safety of all concerned.

My recommendations may need further vision to refine the thoughts for implementation. They may be viewed as novel and out of the box ideas, but the important thing is that they can work. They just require properly structured activities to accommodate the future of our island — our children. This is what I strongly believe we need to do: Focus on finding solutions, rather than just magnifying problems. After all, Jamaica must be the place to live, work, and raise productive families.

Carol Blanchard, PhD, is an educator. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or walkiest@yahoo.com.

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