Tue | Sep 21, 2021
PUBLIC AFFAIRS

Nadine Molloy | Serious dialogue, strategies needed for safe school environment

Published:Sunday | February 21, 2021 | 12:19 AM
A group of students of Mona High School, St Andrew, leave school on the first day of face-to-face class at the start of the school year in January.
Nadine Molloy
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The education sector worldwide is in a tailspin. Given the emotional, social and economic ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last eleven months, this is of little surprise to anyone. The virus and its current variants and those to come are endemic, hence, it is everywhere we operate daily. The reality check is that we have to work our way around that whether we like it or not. Complacency is our worst enemy. Had there been a sense of urgency in implementing many of the now dusty reports and policy recommendations, our circumstances would not be so dire.

Should we or should we not make the call to return face to face for the examination students? As an administrator, I worry for everyone in my care, including me. I am fully aware that I have to take responsibility and will be blamed for any infection connected to the school; contracted at school or not. We are easily blamed for anything connected to us. However, I believe that we have learned quite enough over the last eleven months to relatively safely reopen more of our schools in a blended, phased, managed way, using the requisite health guidelines as they emerge. Prioritising our exam-year students is a good place to start. Some have already.

It is now time to venture out into a reimagined world based on what we have learned. From what I can see, there are too many more at-risk youths on the streets. It was bad before, it is worse now. They deserved better before and more so now. They need to be in school safely, if we can entice them back. Sadly, the worse affected will be coming for us in a little while in our nicely appointed homes. A sad situation is getting worse.

DEPRESSION WILL SET IN

Our students who are being reached are doing well for the most part, but they are missing out on the socialisation and enrichment aspects of school. We are seeing that every day and it must be addressed. Students who are keeping up or are ahead deserve to continue with their academic lives. Tertiary institutions are not closed for business. Plus, it is not good for anyone’s mental state to be sequestered at home for so long. Depression will set in, and it has for some. We cannot be at church, parties and everywhere else, as some of us are, but are reluctant to go to work when and where we can. And I just hate the divide and rule mentality that allows us to think that someone can give us the coronavirus and we cannot give it to anyone.

I believe that we now know enough to put measures in place to go forward with carefully managed routines in our schools. Given the current high spike, the next month may most likely not be the best time to do this effectively. As a school administrator, I am watching keenly the rising figures with trepidation, and worry too. What will my fate be if and when I contract this virus? What of my elderly mother and healthcare worker sister? Staff and parents must be partners is this decision-making process as we consider the good of all involved.

Thus, we must get far more strategic about containment measures as a society, so that we can return to offering our children better educational opportunities, with all the amazing things that we have learned and will continue to learn. For me, as a trade unionist, teachers must be in the first group to be vaccinated and be provided with adequate protective equipment for the school space. Schools should have deployed to them routinely, more cleaning/janitorial staff without the long-drawn-out process. Where needed, work-from-home opportunities must remain.

COVID-19 is horrible, but out of every bad thing comes some good. It has jolted us out of the moribund state that we have been in for far too long in so many areas. It has forced us to regard and use technology in a different more productive manner. It is clear that we need better technology access as the imperative for it in every sector is growing rapidly. It has forced us to be cleaner, too. And this is good. Dear Lord, please let this last forever. It is time for more of us to be Davids to this Goliath.

LESSONS LEARNT

Almost a year later, quite a lot is still unknown, but we have learned a lot of lessons and had reminders along the way. Some of these are:

- To deal with fear effectively, it must be confronted from an informed position. Know what science says about COVID-19 and act.

- Technology is far more than social media entertainment. We have been improving our virtual classrooms daily, lesson by lesson. Capitalise on this.

- Preparation and mitigation measures are necessary elements in all facets of life. Where measures are in place, infection rates are less.

- Today’s agenda determines tomorrow’s success. Industries that are visionaries are pivoting well.

- Schools are the most stabilising spaces for so many of our students. The evidence is overwhelming. Look out for those students who have not had the benefit of the positive structured environment and guidance of a school for almost a year now.

- Upskilling and retooling are necessary for everyone, and most of all for educators. Visionary teachers have pivoted and are leading in effective curriculum delivery where this has happened. Let us support each other.

- We have the ability to adapt and adjust to most, if not all, situations. So many teachers and students have demonstrated this.

As tough as it is at this time, when self-preservation is paramount in our minds, let us remind ourselves of why we have schools and why it is compulsory in all countries. It is to develop our children’s cognitive, emotional, psychological and social skills. So, having taken the time out to recalibrate and learn this new space that we now operate in, we must engage in more serious dialogue with our stakeholders, especially our students, on how we go forward, because go forward we must. The late Earl Hart, outstanding trade unionist from Bermuda, would have said it is time to get off the menu and around the table or be chopped and eaten.

 

Nadine Molloy is the principal of Ardenne High School. Feedback: columns@gleanerjm.com.