Teachers jittery over remaining face-to-face classes
Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) President Jasford Gabriel says many educators are uneasy over the face-to-face teaching arrangements for students preparing for external examinations as the island grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Gabriel, their fears are fuelled by a general lack of regard for COVID-19 protocols in the general population, who the students will come into contact with as they travel to and from school.
“There is still a high level of anxiety out there [among JTA members] because we have schools that have examination cohorts in excess of 300 students, and no additional protocol was given out in terms of how to manage those numbers in the spiking of the pandemic. The teachers still feel very anxious and they are highly exposed,” Gabriel told The Gleaner on Wednesday.
“Some guidelines could have been given to manage the issue more efficiently, but right now, it is left up to the school administrators. We have the troubling factors of the public transportation and gatherings outside of school, and these, in some way, must be contributing to prolonging ... the spread of the virus because we know our students are generally asymptomatic,” added Gabriel.
The JTA president’s comments follow reports in February that 41 schools across Jamaica reported positive or suspected cases of COVID-19, with some 47 students reportedly contracting the virus at that time.
Up to Wednesday, Jamaica had recorded 24,444 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 436 deaths.
After giving more than 100 schools the green light to have students return to the classroom in January, a spike in COVID-19 cases has forced the Government to order the suspension of face-to-face classes in all schools, leaving such an option only available to students preparing for external exams.
In an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the Government has ordered that all schools revert to online classes, with only students preparing to sit external examinations being allowed to have face-to-face classes.
The Caribbean Examinations Council has announced that its customary May-June exams will be administered in June and July this year. The body is also taking into consideration learning loss among students, advising that topics to be tested will be made known five weeks ahead of the sitting.
Gabriel suggested that the topics could have been provided from an earlier point in time to allow students to be better prepared in light of the pandemic’s effect on the education system globally.
“I believe that handing out of exam topics could have been done from the get-go because the examining body would have seen what is happening, not just across the region, but across the world. It is quite clear that countries would still have been struggling with the pandemic, and so that option to provide the topics ahead of time would have helped, especially at a time when it would have been difficult to complete the entire curriculum,” said Gabriel.
“We will have to get strategic as to how we are going to treat those students who were not ready and who will need to be retained in the system to sit the exams next year. We will have to look creatively at how we retain the students in the secondary education system,” added Gabriel.