Schools being guided by health protocols – Williams
Mindful of the learning loss that has befallen Jamaican students who have been kept from face-to-face classes for almost two years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Education and Youth has taken steps to ensure that all the protocols laid down by the Ministry of Health and Wellness for a safe return to face-to-face classes are observed, without exception, according to Minister of Education Fayval Williams.
She assured The Gleaner on Tuesday that her ministry had been guided by the detailed protocols from the health ministry since the start of the pandemic and which were now being implemented with much more stringency. These include temperature checks of all students upon entering a school compound, followed by sanitisation and the observation of social distancing during classes and at all other times.
“We are mindful of the cost of the damage to our children of not being in the face-to-face environment and we have to bring them back into the face-to-face world. We are careful to do it as safely as we can,” said Williams in an interview following the presentation of 10 tablets to the Windsor School of Special Education by the First Heritage Co-operative Credit Union Foundation at the union’s Portmore, St Catherine, office. The foundation plans to donate 40 tablets to special-education students with 60 to be donated to primary and secondary schools, in keeping with its contribution to the education ministry’s ‘One child per laptop/tablet initiative’.
“We believe that we are operating face-to-face classes as safely as we can, abiding by all the protocols. There are spot checks of all our schools and we require a weekly update in terms of what they are observing. We read these results when they come in and if there are any issues, we guide the schools. So, for example, there was a class where the teacher reported COVID-positive – that class has to go online ... so we are actively out there. The team at the ministry is actively in touch with the schools across the region,” Williams explained.
She told Parliament recently that World Bank study for Jamaica showed that the fiscal impact (over and above what we are currently spending) to support the health and safety requirements for opening our schools is going to be in the order of J$2.4-J$3.9 billion annually for one to two years. This includes the cost of re-enrolment campaigns and outreach activities, providing targeted support for the most at-risk students, mitigating and preventing dropout and facilitating remedial education to minimise learning loss. The World Bank concluded that the long-term cost of inaction is in the order of $828 billion, approximately 40 per cent of Jamaica’s GDP, she said.
Williams reiterated that it was a matter of urgency to ensure that the return to face-to-face class is done successfully, which is why every single school has been reinspected to ensure that the wash stations are up and working. There are adequate signs across the campus to guide the students where to stand if they are in a line, and to remind them about the mask-wearing and to ensure that all schools have an adequate isolation centre with its own bathroom facilities.
“We are living with a pandemic and we’ve been living with it for almost two years now. We know what the protocols are and the health professionals have been advising us and we’ve been advising the schools, and so we feel confident in terms of the safety protocols that we are using,” she said.