Tue | Apr 13, 2021

SCHOOL BELL RINGS ON COVID - Education chiefs differ over face-to-face lockdown

Published:Monday | February 8, 2021 | 12:34 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Linvern Wright
Linvern Wright
Jasford Gabriel
Jasford Gabriel

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to surge, the president of the Association of Principals and Vice-principals, Linvern Wright, has recommended that benchmarks be implemented for the shutdown of face-to-face classes because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Concerns are mounting among education stakeholders over the recent spike in COVID-19 cases reported by the Ministry of Health and Wellness. The escalation of the crisis is staggering, with new one-day totals of 263 and 328, recorded on Thursday and Friday, respectively.

It took 151 days for Jamaica to rack up its first 1,000 cases dating back to the first recorded infection of the new coronavirus on March 10. Just over 1,000 cases were reported in only four days last week.

Wright said the benchmarks would inform all partners in the education sector on a red line marking when the situation was sufficiently elevated for administrators to halt in-person classes. His view diverges from a call, reported by Television Jamaica on Sunday night, made by Jasford Gabriel, the president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, for an immediate end to in-person classes amid the upswing in infections.

While conceding that anxiety was rising, Wright said that clear standards would establish a framework on when schools should sound the alarm.

“So you just have to say, this is the infection rate that we are working with, and if media know, principals know, and everybody knows, we can have a more sober and informed response,” Wright told The Gleaner on Sunday.

The principals and vice-principals chief, who said he has been monitoring the conversation that is being had within his membership, disclosed that there have been mixed views about the continuation of face-to-face classes.

Wright would not join the chorus for an absolute end to face-to-face classes but said that a review was necessary.

“It’s rough on Government, tough on teachers, and tough for parents,” the school principal said, pointing out that the pandemic had turned the education sector on its head and caused a sharp decline in learning outcomes.

But he wants the Government to err on the side of caution as it examines how schools are managing under the new regime for face-to-face classes.

On Sunday, the health ministry reported that in the previous 24 hours, Jamaica recorded 244 new cases of COVID-19, pushing the overall total to 17,085. Some 4,271 cases are active, and 149 persons have been hospitalised.

When Minister of Education Youth and Information Fayval Williams last updated the country on how schools were coping, she disclosed that eight schools of the 216 that were approved for face-to-face classes have been impacted by suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19. But since then, several schools have had to close their doors, the latest being St Thomas Technical High School on Friday.

In the meantime, The Gleaner understands that teachers are on edge as they have been told that the Caribbean Examinations Council has been insisting that the exams usually administered in May and June will not be revised to take into account the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several teachers who spoke with The Gleaner on Sunday said many students have been left behind because of the prevailing containment measures.