Gadsby-Dolly: No policy for forms 4-6 students at home

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly says there is no specific policy on the education of forms four-six students who will not be returning to physical school on Monday because no “prescription” will fit every school.

However, she stressed that clearly defined guidelines were given to schools after principals’ associations told the ministry that their flexibility was important.

“It’s a difficult transition, and they asked for that flexibility, and we have given that, with certain guidelines that they must make preparations to go the online and the physical. And we have asked them to give to us their individual school plans – their timetables, number of teachers they have, which teachers are straddling both lower and upper school – because we want to understand what they are doing, giving them that flexibility.”

Speaking at the Shop and Vaccinate initiative at the Brian Lara Promenade on Saturday morning, she said the deadline for the plans to be submitted to the ministry was Friday, but some schools needed more time. But the ministry would be looking closely at what was happening in the schools.

She added that as of Friday, 42,683 children 12-18 had received their first dose of the Pfizer covid19 vaccine and 30,278 had got their second dose.

She made the statement in response to a letter from Vijay Maharaj, acting secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha.

He said, “We are concerned that there is no clear proactive policy (neither short term nor long term) being articulated by the government and/or the Ministry of Education in terms of how the education system will be adapted and/or transitioned so as to function for the maximum benefit of students during the pandemic and post pandemic era which we are no doubt all looking forward to.

“Now that the delta variant is well within our shores and casts doubt over the overall vaccination effort to date, we have to continue our conversation with the introduction of some more in-depth discussions into the welfare of our nation’s children.”

He said the return to physical classrooms was “a first step in the direction” of learning to live with covid19. He encouraged the government to prepare the population for the rollout of vaccines for children five and over for when the time comes.

Maharaj also expressed concern about the lack of electronic devices and connectivity for students.

He said previously the ministry invited parents of primary-school students to apply for laptops through the schools, but there were issues contacting the parents, getting all the personal information required submitted in the time allotted, and some parents did not qualify even though they were in need.

“Devices are only recently being offered to students on pre-packaged roll and parents who have been purchasing data plans and borrowing devices to ensure their children are in classes are not being considered for laptops or connectivity opportunities.

“Although devices have been given to selected pupils in the education system, there are still many children who desperately need assistance in the form of devices, affordable connectivity and IT training. Many parents continue to reach out for assistance (even food support) with connectivity, devices, information on a variety of topics arising in their homes and advice on ensuring their kids’ well-being.”

He said for successful hybrid learning and for children to enjoy their basic fundamental rights, these issues must be addressed for all students. He added that failure to do so could lead to “adverse long-term consequences.”

He suggested that the ministry should allocate sufficient resources in Monday’s budget to provide connectivity to households in the form of subsidies or grants.

“Further, students must have access to devices to ensure that they log on to their classes. If these issues are not sorted out now, we will end up with irremediable hindrances being placed in many students’ education and a widening of pre-existing educational disparities.”

Gadsby-Dolly said the ministry had already given 7,700 devices to teachers, will continue to give them to students, and will supply Mi-Fi devices where required.

She said the ministry noted and appreciated that teachers had been working long and hard to provide online schooling, and there were cases of burnout. Therefore, the ministry would support them as much as possible in these “difficult and challenging times,” and will assist with substitute teachers and devices.

“One of the things I want to mention very clearly is a recommendation that came from TUTTA (TT Unified Teachers Association), and that recommendation was that teachers who are physically in school should not be mandated to teach synchronously online on the same day. We understood where that came from, and it really is a challenge for our teachers.”

She added that the ministry was beginning school cautiously on October 4, and was looking forward to children receiving their education and more children joining them as more get vaccinated.

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