Let’s do it right, minister
THE EDITOR, Madam:
With reference to the article ‘Education Ministry evaluating resumption of face-to-face teaching for primary-school students’, published recently in The Gleaner, I would be the first to agree that primary-school children are at the greatest disadvantage, but let’s not rush to open the schools.
Previous attempts to reopen that failed in the past may have been a blessing because more thought was needed.
Unlike the industrialised countries, Jamaican children are not bubbled on the daily commute. Our primary-school children are the ones packed into taxis; who play, share, and physically interact with each other; and are more likely to touch unsanitised articles in the classroom and school yards.
Most of these children are COVID-19-unvaccinated, likely to be more medically naïve, less likely to practise social distancing, and more unhygienic and communal with food, pencils, masks, and toys.
So, here are my suggestions:
• Start with education of the primary-school children by supplying teachers, parents and media with age-appropriate, developed education ministry-approved content which sensitises primary-school children on the risks of the current situation and their role to make life better.
• Have vaccination blitz at the schools that are being considered for reopening. We have already lost some 60,000 shots, let’s not lose more.
This time focus should be on the taximen, parents, eligible students, and all those who are going to interact with these students. Give ‘I’m vaccinated’ stickers to those vaccinated taximen who want to display it on their taxis.
• Prioritise the upgrade/installation of Internet at the primary schools that are having low participation of students online.
• Supply rapid COVID-19 test kits to schools and train guidance counsellors to use them. Parents are already doing this at home in other countries.
• Establish formal protocols on how to handle suspected COVID-19 cases.
• Appeal to the Internet providers to give teachers priority for Internet repairs and installations.
• Upgrade and open those schools that can do hybrid classroom (online and face-to-face).
• Reallocate the tablets/devices from students who are attending school to those who are not in school.
• Negotiate a special schoolwork-only lifeline Internet package with the telecommunications providers.
This package should allow teachers and students access to only the education ministry’s platform and approved, children-friendly sites, using content-filtering technologies.
• Start a special online homework programme conducted by retired teachers, who are already restricted. This programme should focus on accelerating children identified as at-risk.
• Train parents on the tools to monitor their child’s progress and participation on the platform being used by the ministry.
• Where possible, push for the opening of high schools, as these children can be vaccinated. This would serve to encourage parents to get their eligible children vaccinated. Additionally, having most of the high-school children in school will also take pressure off the Internet infrastructure.