Youth leaders back education ministry on face-to-face classes
The national Youth Parliament of Jamaica (NYPJ) says it is in full support of the Ministry of Education’s recent announcement that only students taking external exams should attend face-to-face classes as part of efforts to curb the spiralling number of COVID-19 cases.
Marleen Campbell, vice-president of the Northern Caribbean University’s Students’ Union, and Ashley Onfroy, a history and archaeology student at the University of the West Indies, praised Education Minister Fayval Williams’ announcement, which was made during a joint meeting on February 24 of the E-COVID Task Force and principals of schools, which were previously approved for face-to-face instruction.
According to Campbell, any decision to scrap the rest of the school year would only put students at a significant learning disadvantage.
“I do not think it is wise to scrap the school year because if we do that, we will be stopping the progress of our students, and many of them will have to stay behind because they would have missed out on whatever information they would need to matriculate to another level. The decision to allow those students who will be sitting external exams to attend face-to-face classes is a good decision,” said Campbell.
“I think the decision was made while considering that those students are the students that definitely are and should be our priority right now. The secondary-education students will be sitting exams to matriculate to university, and so I think it is fair for them to go ahead and attend classes face to face, while understanding that they will observe the protocols,” added Campbell.
Onfroy said that education stakeholders could look at ways to better blend in-person and online learning, while also declaring that some aspects of education can only be properly accomplished in a face-to-face setting.
“There are things that can be acquired during face-to-face learning that cannot be acquired online. There needs to be some sort of face-to-face interaction, especially as it relates to those students who are sitting the PEP [Primary Exit Profile] exam,” said Onfroy.
“While we are waiting on other measures to be implemented to mitigate the spread and transmission of COVID-19, we can also look at ways to have a better-blended approach, even at the tertiary level, since many of our students are struggling at the tertiary level with having mostly online classes. We can use this time to plan out a better structure going forward, should there not be any reprieve from COVID-19 soon,” Onfroy suggested.
The NYPJ members’ comments echoed previous sentiments expressed during a Gleaner Youth Editors’ Forum in January, where they dismissed suggestions that the 2020-2021 school year should be cancelled due to the rise in COVID-19 cases. To date, Jamaica has recorded 22,471 confirmed cases overall.
The NYPJ’s stance and the ministry’s latest announcement are at odds with Jamaica Teachers’ Association President Jasford Gabriel’s call for face-to-face classes in all schools to be cancelled. As of February 21, 41 schools reported positive or suspected COVID-19 cases, with 47 students having contracted the virus.