Halfway through August, we have a covid-19 positivity rate of 35.3 per cent and hundreds of new cases daily. This means 35 of every 100 tested are confirmed with the virulent illness. Worse, it doesn’t seem likely to fade anytime soon. That may mean face-to-face school next month is looking a lot more like a romanticized fantasy. Don’t get us wrong. We want to see our children back in the actual classroom. We applaud the government for its effort in attempting to reinstitute physical learning and for the rest of us continue to observe the covid-19 protocols to slow the virus’ spread. But, let’s face it, we’re dueling an out of hand pandemic and the undisciplined among us. We’re racing against time to get things right, and we’re losing badly.
Walking back from its original plan, the government is taking a phased approach to reopening schools in mid-September, starting online. It’s not what many wanted, but it’s the best move right now for the safety of students and teachers. And parents, too.
The truth is, we have plenty of grounds to cover before we can unite teachers and children in physical learning spaces. More people, especially educators, need to get vaccinated, although we can’t force them. We also need to answer a key question from teachers: What will protect teachers from contracting covid-19 from students? Schools need strategic guidelines to function safely. Every effort must be made to curb the loss from the pandemic so we can get students back to formal learning.
The goal of the new face-to-face school year is to make sure in-person teaching and learning are responsive to students’ needs. Disruptions from the pandemic has set many of those students back, and catching up requires a sensible syllabus. When will Jamaica be able to accomplish this? We’re not sure, and by the looks of this, it may not begin in September.
Surely, we all have to pull together for the sake of our children. The return of in-person learning and teaching is critical for students at all levels, especially those in early childhood and primary school. A National Council on Education study says only 20 to 30 per cent of students in these groups participated in any form of remote learning. That may come back to bite us all when they enter the workplace years from now.