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Teachers play an important role in safe re-opening of schools

Teachers play an important role in safe re-opening of schools

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In less than two weeks, all schools in St Vincent and the Grenadines will re-open for face-to-face learning for all grades for the first time since they closed prematurely on March 20.

In coming to the decision to re-open, the authorities would have had to weigh educational needs against public health, and given that the COVID-19 virus has been well contained here, the challenge associated with safely re-opening schools is not insurmountable.

There are many important reasons why returning to school is important for our children. Remote education is a poor substitute for real classrooms and children with special needs and those from economically disadvantaged homes are at an even greater disadvantage. Once children remain at home, employment prospects for many parents are diminished; the children do not get the stimulation, socialization and for some, the nutritional augmentation they need.

BUT, for the re-opening to be able to impart these benefits without putting our children, teachers and the whole society at risk, it must be done methodically and carefully and the protocols stipulated by the Ministry of Health must be consistently followed for the foreseeable future.

We can also learn from the best practices of those who have successfully reintroduced their children to face-to-face learning – countries like Uruguay, Finland and Denmark.

While giving details of our schools’ reopening plan in Parliament last week, Minister of Education St Clair Prince said among other things, that schools will be required to refine and develop their individual Covid-19 operational plans based on the guidelines from the Ministry of Health.

This approach worked well in Denmark and empowered teachers and school administrators to adapt the protocols based on the particular school plants, populations, the age of the students, teacher skill sets, et cetera. A one-size-fits-all approach cannot work in any school. But it bears repeating that the protocols must follow science and must be consistently adhered to until the all clear is given.

Staggering arrival and dismissal times, limiting assemblies and other large group activities, having as many classes outdoors as possible, and even having a mixture or face-to-face and distance classes to limit the number of people at school at once, should be considered.

There are also lessons to be learned from nations that moved too quickly or lapsed into carelessness because of complacency. Some nations that had very low infection rates moved too quickly and within weeks, their schools had to be shut down and infection rates have spiked. Let that not be our fate.

Our success at navigating this hurdle lies largely in the hands of those who will implement the protocols – our principals and teachers. They must not be set up to fail; they must be given the resources they need and must each pledge their commitment to making this work.

So in the time left before the beginning of the school year, every ‘t’ must be crossed and every ‘i’ dotted to ensure that the necessary sanitization supplies, temperature guns, hand-washing stations, masks, janitorial staff et cetera are in place in abundance. And importantly, the role of each player in the system must be clearly articulated, rehearsed and agreed upon.

So let’s do this together – safely.

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