Get those children back in classrooms, say education ministry officials
WILLIAMS... principals are looking forward to seeing the children back in school

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Mindful that Monday's resumption of classes in a full face-to-face mode will not be perfect, Ministry of Education officials are encouraging parents to shun negativity and send their children back into the classroom.

“I would encourage you [parents], if you ever have to take a risk at this time, take a risk with sending your child to school. The learning loss is already too great; we just have to make up for it,” advised Maureen Dwyer, acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education.

She was speaking during a Ministry of Education and Youth parent virtual town hall meeting Friday night.

Education Minister Fayval Williams informed the parents that already the ministry had spoken to all primary and secondary school principals “and I can tell you without a doubt [that] they are all looking forward to seeing your child and children back in school on Monday morning”.

“...It is not going to be perfect but we are asking you to work with us because we know, over time, you will begin to see the benefits of your child being in the physical environment,” Williams stated.

She further noted: “We know that there are going to be challenges; your students have been out for two years. As they get back into the school environment I know they are going to be excited but there might be challenges for them, for you, for us. We want to do the best for our students but we need you to hold hands with us as we go through this period to get our children back where they were before the pandemic in terms of their education, but also to move them beyond that because they would have missed quite a lot of time during the pandemic.”

The education minister underscored that “technology will remain a permanent part of the education system.

“We will still have all the technology that you were used to in the virtual space, they will still be available. We will still, as well, have lessons on TV because the ministry has its own channels so those will still be there,” Williams said.

“...So yes, the technology will remain. We will just be using it in a little bit different way than you are used to when we were in the mixed modality or we were [doing] the 100 per cent virtual work.

“The devices are there for your children to keep and care and to use them to augment what it is that they are learning in the classroom. I am sure that our teachers will be engaging them for homework sessions after school.... might not be physically at the school. I am sure there are many teachers who will be arranging virtual sessions to help students with various aspects of their work,” Williams went on.

She also alerted parents to the fact that the principals of schools still on the shift system have been given “leeway over the next two weeks [regarding] how they organise to get their students back”.

“Parents, bear in mind that the ministry would have given them [principals of schools on shift sytem] approval for that window of time to sort out the shifts and to accommodate all our children back in school,” the education minister advised.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, while noting that social distancing will pose a challenge, cited that his ministry is 100 per cent in support of the transition to full face-to-face learning.

“All that has happened over the last two years has prepared us for this day. And I am very convinced...I am very supportive of the decision because I do believe that our children do need the face-to-face, and I believe we are adequately prepared for it,” Dr Tufton contended.

“While I agree that COVID is still with us, I am also very optimistic that living with COVID is a lot easier to do now than it was two years ago.”

Williams, who informed that in preparation for tomorrow's resumption additional financial resources have been allocated to schools to replenish their stock of sanitisers and furniture, also revealed that there will be a further distribution to the 5,000 COVID-19 test kits that have already been distributed to schools.

“We are getting ready to add more to the system because the 5,000 sounds like a big number but when you think about all our schools, one school may not get a big amount. So, we are looking to purchase additional COVID test kits. Additionally, next [this] week we will be sending out 400,000 masks into our schools to help our students,” Williams disclosed.

She noted that sanitising and temperature checks will still be in place and implored the students to continue wearing their masks.

“We are asking, we are pleading, we are encouraging the students to continue to wear their masks in the classroom,” she continued.

Acting chief education officer in the Ministry of Education, Dr Kasan Troupe informed the parents that the Ministry of Education had asked the school principals to schedule mask breaks for the students.

“What we have said to our principals is that we should just arrange mask breaks in a structured way. We don't want our children to just randomly be taking off the masks in the classroom or in their different spaces on the school compound. It has to be structured because we still have to remember that we have a responsibility to keep ourselves safe,” Dr Troupe explained.

For his part, Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) Communications Manager Cecil Thoms, who noted that train services will be available for some St Catherine students, said the JUTC will be utilising articulated buses, which have twice the capacity as the regular units, to mitigate crowding. The JUTC has also partnered with sub franchise operators to increase capacity, he said. Thoms also noted that a number of buses that were out of service have been brought “back into operation”.

“The long-term strategy is that we have been given a commitment by the Government that within the latter part of this year we will get an additional 50 buses that will beef up fleet numbers,” Thoms explained.

Acting Chief Education Officer Dr Kasan Troupe says principals have been asked to schedule mask breaks.
DWYER... take a risk with sending your child to school
BY HORACE HINES Staff reporter

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