Schools have been closed since March of last year. Not much learning takes place virtually or long distance. Parents and students complain there is not much learning since last April. The fourth and fifth forms were sporadically opened from last September because students were preparing for CXC. Colleges also remained closed with instructions being given virtually. Education has been seriously affected as I found in a study I conducted, and government, the Minister of Education Priya Manickchand, has been doing her best to prepare for school reopening. We must seriously think about starting schools next month in areas where the community level of infection is low. In fact, parents and students interviewed for a study I conducted say they long to return to in person schooling.
Every parent has a focus on academics and almost all of them want their children to be a doctor, nurse, engineer or computer techie – fields with high demand and salary, and therefore a chance of a better life than say studying history or politics or economics or sociology (disciplines that I studied). But the closure of schools attributed to Covid 19 makes it difficult for students to achieve their full potential to pursue those professions.
There are lasting educational effects from Covid. For the last sixteen months, students have not been able to meet their classmates or play or met teachers. Most students cannot afford home tutors and as such are deprived of learning skills and knowledge. The cost of isolation is very high as students cannot learn from one another. Students have not been able to learn discipline or the kinds of things they would while being in schools like wait their turn for service or socialize with others or propose compromises to problems. Also, schools had offered a source of nutrition giving milk and biscuits. Scholl closure deprive them of that social program. Schools are havens for safety in high crime areas. For parents, school closures have added to childcare and teaching duties. But most parents are not capable of instructing their children especially in the higher grades. This affect family income as parents have to divert their labor to parenting and babysitting.
Once Covid is not a threat, schools should open in September. Learning will have to occur with adherence to safety protocols such masking, hand hygiene, and proper ventilation. The Ministry needs a study to determine the rate of Covid among kids and adults as well as the incidence of Covid in communities – rural versus urban and hinterland. The government needs to establish a system to track local level of infections as well as among children – have house to house surveys done to check into incidence of Covid.
The Ministry must ensure that support services are in place for school re-opening — staff is ready and vaccinated; buses and taxis are in place to transport kids with drivers vaccinated. Children are low risk of Covid infection but they can still get the virus. So it is important they be protected. Everyone should continue to mask up as vaccination is not foul proof. In the US, fully vaccinated people, including many Guyanese, have gotten the virus. Those vaccinated have survived with mild symptoms. Those not vaccinated, have greater risk of succumbing to Covid. No Guyanese who had both vaccines has died from Covid. All the deaths of Guyanese Americans were of those who were not vaccinated.
Preparation is required. Ministry must start planning for re-opening even if it is not in September. If Covid increases, September is out. New York is thinking of re-opening schools second week of September. But this could change if the rate of Covid increases, and it has been increasing with large numbers of the Delta and Colombian variant.
In person learning comes with risk. But without risks, there can be no progress. Schools are not 100% safe. One can get the virus in schools. But the risk can be mitigated with the right strategies of social distancing and disinfecting as happens in schools in America. Medical assistance must be made available to staff and students to combat the virus. If Covid remains high or increases, Ministry will have to continue with online or long-distance learning. Every effort should be made to have students access a device for on line learning. Ministry must offer training to teachers in virtual teaching.
Adults need to be fully vaccinated to protect others from getting. If someone is sick, do ensure they stay home and quarantine. Otherwise, they will spread the virus. Children will take it to schools and infect others. If 75% of the population is vaccinated, we will reach herd immunity and protection from death by the virus.
Children have been out of schools for too long. We cannot continue to ask whether schools are safe. If parents can take their children for fast foods or in stores or markets, then the threat of in school learning is not any greater. The government and public must start acknowledging that in-person schooling is essential for learning and taking measures to safely reopen schools if Covid is under control.