60 per cent of schools reopen so far
WILLIAMS... these are early days in school reopening

JUST over 60 per cent of primary and secondary schools opened their doors this week, with 173 primary and 120 secondary institutions remaining online as the education ministry attempts to get students back into the classroom, following close to two years of virtual learning.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Fayval Williams said 608 schools had opened their doors, and that so far the majority had reported no issues, except for just over 20 of them which had issues such as students or teachers reporting ill, and other issues such as termite problems. “That situation gets worse when schools are closed,” she remarked. Those which opened include 568 primary, 10 infant, and 30 high schools.

Speaking at a virtual post-Cabinet press briefing, Minister Williams said primary schools with 50 students or less had full attendance, but it was relatively low at the larger schools. “But these are early days in school reopening, because schools are using the rotation [method], this is what we would expect,” she said.Williams assured that measures are being implemented to make up the learning loss, such as the deployment of specialist teachers in eight subject areas, starting with more than 200 primary schools; assessments; and interventions where needed, for newly enrolled high school students; and intensification of the national homework programme.Meanwhile, she said despite best efforts and some 200 vaccination blitz done across secondary schools, there was only 32 per cent vaccination coverage, up to the end of December. This falls significantly short of the 65 per cent target that had been set as a marker for returning high school students to the classroom. “As of this moment that 65 per cent target is something still to work towards, however, we have indicated that all students can come back,” she said.Reopening is expected to fully commence on January 10, following the submission of satisfactory COVID-19 Ministry of Health inspection reports, and safety guidelines and policies, which the education ministry says schools must fulfill before they can physically admit students.Head of the Jamaica Teachers' Association Winston Smith said last week that any opportunity to return students to the classroom should be taken, even for briefly. He urged the finance ministry to make adequate funding available to the education ministry to facilitate the safety and security of teachers, students, and support staff in every institution, especially given the threat of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.Prior to the announcement of reopening, Opposition spokesperson for education Dr Angela Brown Burke urged the Government to reopen schools, using the approaches taken by other countries which have successfully returned students to the classroom. She said the benefit of face-to-face learning outweighs the risks of COVID-19. She said, too, that despite the lack of a COVID-19 vaccine for children under age 12, Government should act decisively.

There are, however, public concerns about schools opening and the potential exponential spread of COVID-19, particularly the Omicron strain.

— Alphea Sumner

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