This week should have seen the second installment on the commemoration of International Women’s Day. However, TTUTA wishes to present a perspective on the impact of the covid19 virus on the education system.
The advent of the covid19 virus in TT has forced the state and citizens to pay closer attention to things which some of us take for granted in the education system. The protocols to be observed to prevent community spread – hand washing or sanitising, and the regular cleaning of surfaces throughout the day – require an increased supply of soaps and cleaning agents for schools on a consistent basis.
It is expected that the relevant authorities will see fit to provide schools with the necessary items or ensure availability of funding to schools to cover the costs of these supplies. Schools should not be expected to engage in fund-raising ventures to obtain these necessities. TTUTA advocates during this period of closure, as part of the precautionary actions, that there be a programme of standardised sanitisation of all schools across the country.
The practise of social distancing and new modes of greeting will surely take some getting used to. For many of our students at the ECCE and primary levels, and for our special needs students as well, human touch in the classroom is a means of comfort that impacts positively on their emotional well-being.
There must be consideration of how educators at these levels are to safeguard themselves. By the same token, the proximity of students to each other as they are seated in classrooms, due to class size or size of the classroom space have always been problematic, for curriculum delivery, as well as to prevent the spread of flus and colds among students.
Whilst there is little that can be done to change school infrastructure in this regard, this current situation has demonstrated the need for responsible actions, such as keeping children away if they are ill. The suspension of the delivery of the curriculum is obviously of major concern to all stakeholders.
TTUTA is satisfied that the state has taken steps to close schools until the new term, beginning March 20. Contingency plans must be formulated with wisdom, tact and practicality. It is not unprecedented to host internal examinations at a later time. There is also the option of alternative forms of assessments for students.
The Minister of Education has stated that the SEA will not be postponed. Consideration must be given, however, to the psychological impact of the situation on the students involved. The decision on the SEA should be made after due consultation with all stakeholders – teachers and parents included.
TTUTA will engage the Ministry of Education on the restructuring of the remainder of the academic year, to ensure that the learning needs of students are met. Concomitantly, the government must join with other Caricom states to develop a regional approach on the way forward for CSEC examinations, with a call for the extension of deadlines related to these examinations.
Closure of schools does not imply no productivity – students can continue to engage with the curriculum through revision and practise of skills; teachers can engage in planning in preparation for the resumption of school. The bigger picture here is that of providing viable options for curriculum delivery at various levels.
The Ministry of Education is in the process of digitising its operations. Creating platforms to facilitate blended learning in particular contexts should be part of that strategic objective of the Ministry.
Locally, the Ministry of Health has demonstrated effectiveness in terms of its containment plans. The Ministry of Labour and the Office of the Chief Personnel Officer have considered the welfare of workers and created a new leave category called pandemic leave.
However, such actions should not simply be contextualised by this pandemic. Our country’s response plan to public health emergencies, especially infectious diseases, must target schools as the first point of information dissemination and preventative actions. Proactive measures are needed now more than ever!