Education ministry continues its COVID monitoring strategy – Williams
DESPITE RECENT calls for the Government to suspend face-to-face classes because of concerns about further COVID-19 spread, particularly with the Omicron variant having been confirmed in Jamaica, Education Minister Fayval Williams says her ministry will continue its current strategy of monitoring schools’ adherence to COVID-19 protocols.
Williams was speaking to The Gleaner on Thursday, following the official handover ceremony for the Jamaica Social Investment Fund’s (JSIF) Salt Spring Safe Passage Project, at the Salt Spring Primary School in St James.
“Our responsibility is to bring our children back into the face-to-face environment as safely as we can, to stay on top of what is happening in our schools, and we get weekly reports that give us a sense of what is happening. While we have seen reports from some of our schools that say there are some teachers who are either positive or were exposed to persons with COVID, or some students who have symptoms of runny nose and so on, in those cases, teachers and students have stayed at home,” Williams said resolutely.
“We are monitoring the situation and sharing that data with the Ministry of Health and Wellness. So far in our schools, based on the reports and the spot checks that we do, we are implementing face-to-face learning in as safe a manner as we can,” Williams added.
On Tuesday, the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) recommended that the Government suspend face-to-face classes for a period of time. Such a move would seem especially prudent with the revelation that COVID-19’s highly transmissible Omicron variant has been confirmed to be in Jamaica.
However, the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) countered that recommendation, saying that the learning loss which students have suffered during the pandemic is too significant.
Concerning the reception of Jamaica’s student populace to taking the COVID-19 vaccine, Williams noted that the number of high-school students who have taken the jab has increased since December.
“In our high schools, we continue to see the percentage of vaccinated students increase. When we ended December last year, it was 31 per cent of the students; but, the last I looked, which was about a week ago, we were at about 37 per cent. So we are seeing children still taking up the vaccines,” said Williams.
The education minister also said that consultations are currently underway to determine whether to push back examinations such as the Primary Exit Profile, and that an announcement will be made to that effect, once a decision has been agreed upon with stakeholders.
Last May, the United Nations Children’s Fund lambasted the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) for its decision to press ahead with the June 2021 sitting of its examination period. The CXC body had been under pressure from teacher lobby groups at that time to set an easier exam, as students’ preparations were said to be severely affected by the pandemic.