Is education a priority?Thursday, September 09, 2021
Unfortunately, as the new school year commences schools are once again forced to begin classes with the online modality. This is due to the significant spike in novel coronavirus cases which has resulted in our health facilities buckling under pressure and medical practitioners being stretched to the limit. The decision of the Government to open up the entertainment industry in the way that it did has, by and large, resulted in our students not being able to resume face-to-face classes.
The prime minister and, by extension, the Cabinet made the wrong call, given all the different variables that were at play. At the time when the decision was made there had been a shortage of vaccines and major logistical issues with the roll-out of the vaccination programme, the Delta variant was wreaking havoc in other parts of the world, and there was a high level of vaccine hesitancy, as well as a low level of vaccine take-up.
To further compound the problem, the decision to reopen the entertainment sector was made during the summer period, which is a time when there would have been a proliferation of parties and social gatherings. And, to add insult to injury, the prime minister's decision was not supported by medical professionals.
All this took place with the start of the new academic year less than two months away. Bear in mind that, based on the Minstry of Education, Youth and Information data, more than 120,000 students were not engaged by the education system over the course of the last academic year.
It therefore raises the question of whether education is a priority.
Because, if it was a priority the prime minister and the Cabinet would have done everything in their power to ensure the reopening of schools and would have understood that it was not the right time to give favourable consideration to the reopening of the entertainment industry.
If it was a priority the prime minister would have understood that we could not continue with the status quo and would have recognised the importance of consolidating on the low positivity rate at the time, and not squander that opportunity.
If it was a priority the prime minister would have charted a course to resume face-to-face classes.
Every student, parent, teacher, principal, member of a school board of management, and Ministry of Education official should be livid with Prime Minister Andrew Holness for failing the education system by making such a terrible decision.
This decision is going to have significant residual effects in years to come because it has placed the internal stakeholders of the education system under undue pressure at a time when we are already buckling and have far less resources at our disposal.
The Government should make education a priority during this crisis, second only to health and, as such, deploy the necessary resources.
The Government also needs to chart a clear path to the resumption of face-to-face classes, communicate the strategy to the country, and implement. Decisions at the national level need to be made in the interest of the greater good and not expediency.
The prime minister and Cabinet would do well to heed the words of Jamaica Integrity Commission Executive Director Greg Christie when he said, “One test of masterclass leadership is the ability to recognise and dispassionately manage and contain a problem before it escalates into a crisis. Such leaders do not vacillate, nor do they shirk from taking bold, decisive, and ethical action.”
Principal, Yallahs High School
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