Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Marva Hewitt and Sharon Parris-Chambers| School on the roadside

Published:Sunday | November 22, 2020 | 8:27 AMMarva Hewitt and Sharon Parris-Chambers - Guest Columnists

As we read of the desperate measures being taken by some parents towards ensuring their children are receiving an education during this pandemic. I cannot help thinking that not enough is being done by the Government to ensure that the children are not left behind.

In a recent visit to a local Internet café, we observed two young children with their schoolbooks and earplugs sitting in this small, crowded retail shop trying to do online schooling on the computer. This was when we realised the seriousness of this situation. The headline ‘Online Schooling by the Roadside’ ( The Gleaner, October 21) compels me to share my concern and support of the cry of these parents in their desperate need. This, we trust, will help bring more attention to their plight, in an effort to return some element of normality to educating our children.

We also ponder the thought on the continuation of the policy that keeps all schools across our island closed. The continued lack of traditional teaching in traditional classrooms, coupled with the lack of resources to reach the masses, particularly those in rural areas, must be returned to normality. Special consideration should be given to those with special needs, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds should be urgently reviewed.

We understand the challenges for Jamaica from this global pandemic. We have found ways to reopen our international borders, and all but few industries have remained closed. The Ministry of Education had promised the reopening of our schools for this school term. However, this has not happened with the recent announcement and protocol which has prohibited all schools against reopening, and, instead, classes are being held online.

ADOPT BEST PRACTICES

Jamaica should best adopt the protocols of other countries in making efforts to return to classroom education, recognising the important role of traditional learning in the mental health and well-being of our children.

Jamaica boasts some of the most committed teachers, and our children are quick learners. Whether they choose the arts, sciences, technology or even the apprenticeship programmes, they have done well. Therefore, we must find ways to combine virtual learning with the classroom education. The Government needs to demonstrate, through innovative ways, the practical implementation of the policy ‘No child left behind’, where all schools are allowed to assess risks and have protocols around the safe return of children to traditional classroom learning.

There are other reasons why children must return to the traditional classroom. For example, the impending health risk from all-day online virtual learning and the dangers of occupational injury/ illnesses from the computer should not be ignored. These include Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Computer Vision Syndrome, musculoskeletal problems, eye strain and possible hearing problems. These should not be ignored. The daily rise in COVID-19 cases in the island (over 9,000) does not give us hope for an early ending, for return to school in the ‘new normal’ setting. We implore the Government to consider, at a minimum, the blended approach to learning, as well as embark on an education programme for parents and children, in order to reduce the risk and number of NCDs (Non-Communicable Diseases) in this and future generations.

While we do share the fear of our teachers not returning to the classroom at this time, because of themselves being in the high-risk groups, and the concern of parents who may have children similarly challenged, there should not be a blanket approach for all schools. Each should be given the flexibility in a democratic society to exercise care and ensure the relevant protocols are in place. Government must find the resources in their budget, similar to other areas, to ensure public-sector schools are in compliance with hygiene standards befitting to COVID-19 protocols. After all, we are told we have to learn to live with this disease.

Recent data by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (2018) show that the majority (seven out of 10) of Jamaicans in 2015 died from the four major NCDs – cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease. Therefore, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has an important role to play with regards to health promotion, particularly during this pandemic, when the majority are encouraged to work from home and our children no longer are walking to school or encouraged to participate actively in sports, as part of their daily routine.

We, therefore, urge the Ministry of Education to employ a mixed approach to our children’s education during this pandemic, to ensure that their health and safety are not further compromised through the recent change in our education protocol. The ministry could embark on an islandwide risk assessment of our schools’ status to reopen, offering a phased approach to classroom learning, which is critical to the healthy well-being and safety of our Jamaican children.

- Marva Hewitt is managing director/CEO Food Hygiene Bureau. Sharon Parris-Chambers is publisher, Caribnewsroom.