While the majority of students continue their education online, certain students will be allowed to return to the classroom, Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley announced Sunday.
Most students report being satisfied with the online learning arrangements implemented because of the coronavirus pandemic, but some, including those with special needs and senior students preparing to sit for standardised tests, feel inadequately served by the digital curriculum, Dr. Wheatley stated.
“We have heard the cries of those who have said that special education students need some special attention; that automotive students need an hour or two of practical instruction; that those with individualised educational plans are falling behind,” he said. “And, therefore, Cabinet, in its wisdom, decided to allow a limited number of students with specific needs on campus.”
Schools will have to be inspected and approved by the chief environmental health officer prior to reopening, said Dr. Wheatley, adding that once these in-person classes resume, social distancing measures will be enforced and classroom schedules will be staggered, with learning equipment and tools being sanitised between classes.
To ensure student safety, the ministry is structuring the limited reopening in accordance with UNICEF’s Framework for Reopening Schools, published in April, and under the guidance of the World Health Organisation’s Considerations for School-Related Public Health Measures in the Context of Covid-19; the United States Center for Disease Control’s Interim Guidance for Child Care Programs; and other similar documents, Dr. Wheatley stated.
“The Covid-19 threat is fluid, and, therefore, this plan is constantly being evaluated against local conditions [and] Cabinet decisions, along with other factors,” he said. “It is envisioned that moving into the future, even beyond Covid-19,we will utilise a blended approach of online and face-to-face education, and the public will be kept informed as we adjust to shifting circumstances.”
Though a definitive plan has yet to be completed for reopening daycares and pre-schools, Dr. Wheatley also announced that his ministry is working toward that goal in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Development.
“I am concerned about the vulnerability of our young people with the continued closure of daycare centres and preschools. We are aware that there are less-than-ideal arrangements being put in place at the moment,” Dr. Wheatley said.
He also called upon daycare and pre-school officials to en-gage the ministry and the Department of Environmental Health as they work to reopen.
“I look forward to this collaboration as we develop a detailed framework for daycare centres and pre-schools for the consideration of Cabinet,” he stated.
Key-stage and Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment examinations have been cancelled for the year, and teachers will instead conduct “continuous assessment” to determine whether students are ready to matriculate from one grade to the next, Dr. Wheatley stated.
According to the minister, projects, investigations, quizzes, book reports, classwork and “kinesthetic assessments” will take the place of these examinations.
For the secondary students, other graduation requirements, such as the completion of a certain number of community service hours, will have to be adjusted, he added.
In addition, all graduation ceremonies will be held virtually, Dr. Wheatley stated.
“This is being done to keep the population safe as we navigate this Covid-19 era,” he explained. “Further guidance on graduation requirements and ceremonies will be forthcoming in the near future.”