Abandon the school year? Rubbish, Mr MP!

The news story describes it as a “bold step”, but Member of Parliament Hugh Graham's call for the abandonment of the 2020-2021 school year betrays a worrying lack of vision in a leader and businessman.

One can assume that the St Catherine North Western parliamentary representative meant well in urging the authorities, as he did in his opinion piece in this week's Sunday Observer, to cancel the academic year because of challenges posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic and to protect students and teachers.

The Paramount Trading Company principal is also arguing that students who sat the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations in 2020, or will sit them this year, were, or will be significantly affected.

“Should we suspend school for this year?... Forcing students who do not have access to proper resources to continue schooling will only cause them to fall through the cracks,” Mr Graham wrote.

His further suggestion that additional energy ought to be invested in laying the foundation for a smooth take-off of the 2021-2022 school year, to avoid additional challenges, is the very reason, we think, his abandonment call should be ignored.

Most of the world has awaken to the fact that, rather than retreat — as we did in the earlier stages of the pandemic — it is necessary to learn to adapt and live with the coronavirus, in the way previous generations have had to do with pandemics in their time.

Schools are no different from the rest of society. We have to find ways to open schools and, at the same time, ensure the safety of those who attend or work in them. It has to be more and not less schooling, given the damage already done when schools had to be closed before we understood the virus.

We are sure that Mr Graham understands the incontrovertible fact that it is the children from the poorest homes who suffer the most from the devastation caused by COVID-19. The inequality in education before the virus has been further exacerbated. The longer schools close, the worse it will get.

Even though there is hope in the emergence of several vaccines to fight the pandemic we do not know for sure when we will be out of this public health and economic crises. Students whose education has been disrupted should not have to suffer any more, which is the road down which Mr Graham is leading us.

Globally, innovation has moved from the margins to the centre of many education systems, and there is an opportunity to identify new strategies that, if sustained, can help young people get an education that prepares them for our changing times.

The acceleration of education inequality requires new responses that means working through the challenges, learning from them, adapting, and moving ahead, certainly not retreating. We should spend our energy trying to close the gaps.

Our aim should be to get all children to become lifelong learners, develop their full competencies from literacy to problem-solving to collaboration, in order to access a changing world of work and be constructive citizens in society.

This is achieved through engagement, not abandonment. Mr Graham needs to be schooled on this fact.

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