Summer school dispute
JTA holds position despite ministry's about-turn on mandatory classesWednesday, June 16, 2021
BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
The Ministry of Education has back-pedalled on its decision to have mandatory summer classes this year after meeting resistance from the island's public school teachers, but the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) says its stance that the time shoud be used for strategic planning remains.
Yesterday, JTA President Jasford Gabriel pointed out that traditionally summer classes have been planned by individual schools, but with the ministry now signalling its intent to manage the process, there are unanswered questions.
“It doesn't really change anything, because this is something that the ministry has initiated and is running with, without consulting. The process that they're using is unprecedented. I don't know who they have in mind to engage; which teachers, and which students. In any case, teachers would have already made their plans for the holidays long before now, as is traditional,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
“It's very strange. I'm not sure what is happening. We don't have any details in terms of who this is targeting really, which teachers, which subjects,” he added.
He argued that the summer should be used to strategise and plan interventions for the start of the new academic year in September.
“The principals have said that, we have said that, so I don't know how this decision came out of the blue,” he said, noting that it is now a wait-and-see situation.
Speaking at a virtual town hall meeting last Friday, Education Minister Fayval Williams said details of the programme would be announced by this week. The plan is to start summer classes the week following the end of the school term on July 2.
Chief Education Officer Dr Kasan Troupe said classes would be held using the hybrid model, and that the next few weeks will be spent trying to find the 120,000 students who have been out of the system for a year and a half.
The island's public school teachers have indicated that any plans by the Government to have mandatory summer school this year is a bad idea as the novel coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on the sector and they are looking forward to the traditional summer break to decompress and refresh for the new academic year.
Teachers are exhausted, the JTA president said: “Burnout and mental and physical health challenges are prevalent across the teaching profession. Term one of the school year 2021 to 2022 will be a defining period in our education system. All stakeholders, and especially our teachers, need to be rested, refreshed, and mentally prepared to treat with the inevitable challenges, which includes extra classes next term.”
Furthermore, he pointed out that there are several issues facing the system that have not been addressed over the past year and a half, such as the need for regulated screen time.
“It is unfortunate that 15 months into the pandemic the ministry hasn't sought to regulate screen hours for students and teachers,” he argued.
Teachers, he said, are looking forward to this summer break more than any other period prior. Furthermore, Gabriel pointed out, as the summer break nears, schools are already experiencing a decline in attendance, both on the virtual platform and in physical classes.
“The fact is that the general mindset and attitude to learning during this period are mitigating factors,” he stated.
The JTA president said that, clearly, the over 120,000 students who have been disconnected from the education system “will not be turning up for school during the summer holiday”.
Gabriel said it is anticipated that most, if not all, students should be accounted for at the start of the next school year, and that it is crucial that this summer period be used for strategic planning to address the challenges.
“Some key areas of engagement must be planning for a 'trauma-centred approach' in schools. This requires provision of more social workers, guidance counsellors, and special education facilitators, especially in the areas of numeracy and literary; rolling out a strategy to locate the missing students and making provisions to treat the issues they have been experiencing and make provision for them to return to school in the new term,” he suggested.
There are also questions hanging over the validity of the results of virtual diagnostic tests. He advised that with so many students out of the system these assessments would be best conducted at the beginning of the school term.
“There are real issues pertaining to the validity and veracity of results, [and] teachers have indicated that the level of the tests is well above the current level of the students, which has implications for validity of results,” he said.
With more than 6,000 Caribbean Examinations Council students opting for deferral this year, non-traditional and rural schools, which are strapped for resources, will be most affected. The JTA president believes other arrangements could be made, such as shifting students to nearby schools which have adequate accommodation, and providing devices for students who are without.
“Whatever the decisions, it is extremely important that the education system is meaningfully accounting for the engagement of these students as they could easily fall through the cracks at such a critical stage of their transition,” he asserted.
Meanwhile, Gabriel emphasised that there is an urgent need for extensive data gathering to analyse the experience of all stakeholders to get a true picture of the impact of the pandemic on all aspects of education.
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