No child left behind? Not quite...

Arguing that students across the Caribbean are still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, several youth leaders in the region say despite numerous interventions and the best efforts of policymakers, some of their peers are in danger of being left behind.

The youth leaders, who were part of a panel addressing the 17th annual Caribbean Child Research Conference on Thursday, said in order to ensure that the event's theme, 'Leaving No Child behind – The UN 2030 Agenda and the Convention of the Rights of the Child in a Post-COVID environment', becomes more than a tagline, regional governments should utilise ground-based research to craft holistic policies instead of one-size-fits-all measures.

The two-day event, hosted by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, University of the West Indies (UWI), in partnership with the Eastern Caribbean United Nations Children's Fund, is a regional interdisciplinary conference covering a range of child-related themes.

Trinidad and Tobago's Ajay Gordon, in his remarks, said, "Although we are back in school physically at this point in time, we are just now seeing the drawbacks of the pandemic."

According to Gordon, who says he tutors in English and biology, "What we have been seeing is that students have been passing by the skin of their teeth in the Secondary Entrance Assessment (similar to Jamaica's Primary Exit Profile exams) and then being transferred into high school without proper knowledge of subject verb agreement, the reasons we have letters in mathematics — small areas that students have great problems."

"I find myself wondering how these students, in two to three years, can enter the CXC realm and pass. It is not possible. What I feel needs to be done is a diversification of our educational offerings. That simply means not everybody has to be an academic," Gordon stated, adding that coming out of the pandemic he has found that students are "oversexualised" and not even interested in extracurricular activities anymore.

"The social construct of our high schools has shifted a lot," he said in appealing to policymakers.

"Yes, we don't want to leave any child behind, but we also don't want a big policy that does not trickle down to the small man and has no impact on the persons it is meant for," Gordon said while calling for on-the-ground monitoring for measures implemented.

St Lucia's Jean-Luc Constantine, commenting further, said while every sector experienced loss, many people, including himself, considered education to have "suffered the biggest loss".

He argued that even though policy leaders and the sector have recognised the ravages on students they have "simply been flung back into post-COVID normalcy".

"It has not been an easy transition from face-to-face learning to online learning, then to blended learning and then back online and then face-to-face once more. It has taken a severe toll on my overall health," Constantine said.

"Having spoken about COVID-19 and its effects for so many months, how can we, as a society, truly ensure that no child is left behind? Whether or not we recognise it or even want to admit it, we are still being affected by COVID-19 and yes, we have made significant strides as a region to solve the issue of the digital divide in our islands and have ensured that our students can overcome learning loss and their psychosocial needs are met, but what about the frustrated students, the overwhelmed students, the one who has had to overcome but is still suffering the PTSD of the tragic incident that was COVID-19?" he wanted to know.

Arguing that the solution is not one-size-fits-all, he said the region should come together to arrive at a coherent plan.

In the meantime, Jamaica's Danielle Mullings, in her presentation titled 'Imagining a Healthy Digitally Connected Caribbean', said the "requirements for a healthy digital ecosystem are what we will need coming out of COVID".

Arguing that technology, given its prevalence should be used going forward, Mullings advocated more access to learning what she described as "digital life skills".

According to Mullings, with "technology being a key part of how society functions, a technology focus has to be part of any No Child Left Behind thrust".

"Moving forward we need affordable and quality devices, and in tandem with that public education and increased digital literacy, especially when we are talking about young kids," she said while batting for affordable Internet and electricity access.

The conference, which is being held virtually, ends today on Friday, November 25.

Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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