Reaction about this week’s press conference, re: back to school F2F

Safety. Collaboration. Communication. Flexibility. Phased.

There were several key words and perspectives which quite heartening and encouraging, which we heard in the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training (METVT) Press conference this week regarding the f2f national school reopening.

This is an incredibly complex endeavour requiring all hands on deck. We do not envy our national decision makers as there are no easy answers. Barbados is fortunate that we have the benefit of observing what has obtained internationally AND in our CARICOM neighbours and can ‘adopt, adapt and adept’ our school reopening strategy accordingly.

While we all acknowledge that our children’s psycho-social and educational needs, and parental money-earning capacity, are all best served by in-person f2f school, it is not unreasonable to experience caution, apprehension and concern at the prospects of return to in-person school.

Many questions were addressed during this week’s METVT press conference. We were most impressed by the realistic and flexible approach to the school reopening plan and that it is being launched in phases. This builds a comfort level which is imperative to the success of the project. It further acknowledges that some schools are in varying levels of readiness to safely open, and can proceed accordingly.

There are still several questions which remain. We look forward to continued dialogue accordingly:

1. Advice on what appears to be a contradiction in the statement that transmission is unlikely at the schools, but more likely at the homes from which the children come, especially since we have had school outbreaks in the past with variants which were not as highly contagious as Omicron;
2. Our transmission rate and death rate still are relatively high and much higher than the WHO recommended rates;
3. Will information on vaccination rates for students (and per cohort) and schools staff be disseminated for each school;
4. Will consideration be given to the establishment of an government pandemic education fund which specifically targets the myriad additional resources needed for safely reopening schools: additional buses from the private sector for student (and staff?) transportation); additional substitute teachers, sufficient school monitors; additional cleaners and sanitization units and supplies; PPEs and masks for those in need; assistance to parents with uniform and other school supply costs; summer and weekend school for those at-risk students requiring remedial education support. The public schools especially will struggle to effect the requisite COVID mitigation protocols without further assistance from the public purse. This funding model was applied in Antigua and was very successful.
5. What is the back-up strategy for school outbreaks and teachers being unavailable due to quarantine/isolation. Learning gaps will hardly be improved if children are in school but teachers absent due to isolation/quarantine
6. Further information on the random testing proposal of students and school staff is of course needed. It appears that it will have limited effectiveness to capture positive cases early however as, since it cannot be rolled out before 2 – 3 weeks time, any transmission will have had that time to circulate.
7. Some Children will be apprehensive re returning to school and have been emotionally scarred many pandemic-related challenges. Do we have sufficient resources at each school to help children in need?
8. Will there be a clear list of COVID-compatible symptoms which will be disseminated by the MoH and MoE to schools and parents, so parents will know not to send children exhibiting these symptoms to schools? What will be the system – eg an attendance monitor at each school – to record the symptoms and clear the children to return to school eg – PCR test?
9. School exit exams: in due course, we will hear more re the 11+ plans. Further information is needed on how Barbados will continue its CARICOM leadership in advocating for CXC to revise its 2022 Exams to fairly address the effect on education of 3 academic years of the pandemic.

We appreciate the METVT parental and student survey which was shared this week re back to school concerns. This was a great idea to encourage engagement, but the timing of its dissemination limited its effectiveness and efficacy.

We look forward to further communication on the detailed plans for f2f school reopening, inclusive of BAMP’s comments. This is massively complex project and I respect our MoHW and METVTM professionals greatly who have worked so tirelessly to achieve this, as well as being on the pandemic frontlines from the beginning.

(However, if one more person makes the specious comparison between us and large wealthy countries, most at the tail end of their respective Omicron outbreak, with either high vax rates and/or resources to reconfigure their school infrastructure, with robust public health system…. Often while underestimating Omicron: less severe is not the same as mild! Not with our large numbers of elderly people and/or those with NCDs…..)

Early, continuous and formal two-way engagement of all education stakeholders, inclusive of a wide representation of parents and students, is welcomed.

Diverse views and perspectives, respectfully offered, can only enure to optimise decision-making, to the benefit of all of our children and thus, our nation.

Parents and teachers want our children back to f2f school.

Our children yearn for it.

Safely.

  • Ms. Paula-Anne Moore – Parent Advocate Spokesperson/Coordinator
    The Group of Concerned Parents, Barbados
    The Caribbean Coalition for Exam Redress
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