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Government studying “roadmap” for reopening of schools, acting PM says


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Government studying “roadmap” for reopening of schools, acting PM says
Acting Prime Minister, Santia Bradshaw - FP

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Even with steady numbers of young people being identified with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Barbados, acting Prime Minister Santia Bradshaw said government was pushing to re-start face-to-face classes.

Young people under the age of 18 have made up about 20 per cent of positive cases in the latest surge of COVID-19 in the island, principally attributed to the community spread of the Delta variant of the viral illness.

But Bradshaw, the substantive minister of education in the Mia Mottley administration, said it was painful knowing that the island’s children had spent so much time away from the classroom and the government was seeking “a roadmap” that would enable them to return.

“We are seeing an increase in the uptake of the vaccines in our teens and pre-teens, but we need to get the numbers up, so that our young people can get back to school,” she said.

“We also need to see the numbers up, so that we can have the adult population vaccinated and get back some degree of normalcy.”

She added: “It pains me to know that our schoolchildren are missing out on their education… We have looked at some thresholds with the help of the Ministry of Health and Wellness to be able to move back to a level of normalcy…

“But the truth of the matter is that we are going to have to do a bit more at the public-school level to allay the fears of parents, to allay the fears of teachers, allay the fears of the unions, allay the fears of the principals and certainly allay the fears of the children as well.”

Bradshaw said she was scheduled to continue talks later this week with stakeholders to look at “a roadmap” that would enable students to safely return to the island’s classrooms.

“We are going to talk about some of the plans we have to improve the school plant so we can readily take children even if with a six-foot distancing as opposed to three feet,” she said.

“It isn’t to say we are avoiding the issue of education. Right now, what we are seeing coming out every single day, we are as concerned as you are about these numbers (testing positive for COVID-19).”

She said: “Where schools, the management, the teachers and the parents, have come to a position in terms of a threshold, where teachers are vaccinated and parents are comfortable, we will work with them through the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit to allow students to be able to go back to school.

“But that is a work in progress. While that is our intention, the truth of the matter is we are charting ‘a roadmap’ to be able to get us to that point.”

Bradshaw said the aim was to have most of the island’s 12-year-olds to 17-year-olds and about 70 per cent of the teaching and ancillary staff vaccinated before a plan for the return to school could be fortified.

“We also want to be able to acquire the relevant kits for testing to be able to give another layer of protection to all the other students and teachers within the school environment,” she said.

“There are nasal swabs that can be used on children as well as the saliva tests… We have heard the concerns from the unions from our discussions and we want to be able explore all of these things before we are able to come to the country and say, ‘We are going back into school in a particular way’.”

Bradshaw said the issues were complex and there was no “playbook” for the government to follow, and every day the dynamics of delivering education in the COVID-19 pandemic change.

(AR)