ST JAMES, Jamaica — Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says it is his view that resumption of face-to-face classes should go ahead as planned despite an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases on the island.
"My own view is that we should focus still on trying to get them back into the classrooms. We are working closely with the Ministry of Education around the critical protocols and, as of now, all systems are on go as announced by the Minister of Education [Fayval Williams]," stated Dr Tufton.
He was responding to queries from the Jamaica Observer during a ceremony for the handing over of 5000 COVID-19 home testing kits to the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St James on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Education in a bulletin signed by chief education officer, Dr Kasan Troupe, informed all regional directors, school boards and principals of all public and private educational institutions that the academic year will commence for formal classes on Monday, January 3.
The bulletin noted that on that date, face-to-face instructions would be offered in all pre-primary, primary and secondary institutions for all students — under certain conditions. These include a satisfactory health inspection and a COVID-19-compliant approval report from the health ministry.
While noting that any decision to be made about school reopening is that of the Cabinet, Tufton said he believes the rationale for starting face-to-face instructions is "very justified".
"Our students have been out of the classroom, for the most part, for nearly two years. It has not just impacted their development capacity but also their mental state. There are several side effects which really should cause us to hasten to get them back into the classroom," he said.
President of the Jamaica Teachers' Association Winston Smith is in support of schools grabbing the opportunity to try and bridge the learning gap brought on by the halt of face-to-face classes in March of last year due to the presence of the virus on the island.
"Unless we are directed by the Ministry of Health and Wellness not to open, I believe we should capitalise on any opportunity, even if it's for a week or a month because we have suffered for a long while now. Our students are at a disadvantage in comparison to where they ought to have been academically. Any opportunity that we can provide for the students to learn as much as possible, knowing that the online modality is not working very well because of challenges beyond our control, face-to-face is the best method at this time," Smith told the Jamaica Observer earlier this week.
- Anthony Lewis