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Talking Points: New School Term

SHERRYLYN TOPPIN, [email protected]

Talking Points: New School Term

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On Saturday evening, Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw addressed the nation on the 2020 Michaelmas School Term which starts on September 21 and ends on December 11.

Bradshaw said there was no “one size fits all” approach to this, although it would be done through a combination of face-to-face and online classes. As such, parents would have to provide accurate information to the schools, which would in turn send that to the Ministry of Education.

The Minister said there would be challenges in the COVID-19 environment, but the general consensus was that it was better for children to be back in school than to be kept at home. Key to this, was doing it as safely as possible so everyone would be comfortable when they were back on plant.

Here are some of the key points from that address:  

Bradshaw said coming out of discussion with the stakeholders, there were about seven options on the table and they narrowed it to two. These were the shift system and the blended approach of online and face-to-face teaching, with the latter being more popular.

The school term will start on September 21, 2020 and end on December 11, 2020, comprising 12 weeks of classes instead of the traditional 14. This means there will be some adjustments to the curriculum.

Given the length of time away from the classroom, assessments will be conducted to determine where students are, where the learning gaps occurred and so on. Parents are asked not to worry if the traditional curriculum is not being followed, but in this period, there will be smaller classes to address the gaps.

Masks are not mandatory, but advisable. Allowances will be made for those students and teachers who have health challenges and may not be able to wear a mask for long periods. Parents can source masks, but the Ministry of Education will also provide masks for children.

Desks are to be placed at least six feet apart if masks are to be removed during class. If they are closer, masks are to be worn at all times. Face shields are also an option and some will be provided as well.

Schools must ensure there are staggered breaks for meals. Parents are encouraged to pack lunches to reduce congestion at the canteen.

Over the years, the number of parent volunteers has declined and Bradshaw appealed for more people to help at the schools.

newnationblocs-covid-19-updateDevices will form a major part of teaching going forward. The Ministry is sourcing 20 000 from Kenya and will soon begin distributing more to children who did not get before or those who were overlooked.

Discussions were held with the transport sector regarding protocols for school children. The purchase of the 33 electric buses will provide an ease, but schools will have to provide information based on the timetables to the Ministry and Education and the Transport Board so the service can be scheduled.

Priority will be given to the schools in the country which traditionally have problems with transportation. The Ministry of Education also intends to move towards a dedicated school bus service in the future.

Additional safety and sanitising protocols will take place with children returning to schools.  

Special needs students will as usual have specific requirements. They are among the most vulnerable, and more than other students, require the face-to-face teaching. Bradshaw sought to reassure the parents of special needs children who may have physical or mobility issues, pointing out it was better to have them at school than at home.   

By sitting in on special needs online classes, the Minister said she saw first-hand the challenges the parents faced and the Ministry would have to work with other ministries and partner agencies to provide them with the necessary support.

Sanitising of the school plants was also a key issue coming out of the discussions. Bradshaw said they agreed to both hire new staff and deploy those currently employed in a different way. There will be more training for ancillary staff, which started before the Common Entrance Examination. A session will be held on September 10 for all janitors across the system.

Protocols will be specially developed for science labs, physical education and music which have the sharing of equipment.

Since the school plants may not be big enough to accommodate the numbers for physical distancing the Ministry of Education may also use some churches and community centres which are already following the health and safety protocols.

The School Meals Department will have to make the adjustments as the students are spread over different plants.

The Ministry will hold discussions with the Parents Teacher Associations (PTA) this coming week, and going forward, all schools will be required to have a functioning PTA.

Over the next few weeks and during planning week, several webinars will be held to prepare teachers for online instruction.