I am concerned about the spread of COVID-19 among our schools’ student population and its unabated surge nationally as the PPP government moves ahead with plans not only to reopen the economy but the school system.
The credible reports that Three Miles Secondary School at Bartica, Anna Regina Multilateral, Charity Secondary School, President’s College, schools in Mabaruma and Port Kaituma are acknowledging COVID-19 positive students leaves us to repose little, if any, confidence in the Ministry of Education’s school reopening plan or the government’s management of the pandemic.
It has been a government of contradictions: the Minister of Education has an expectation that students will wear masks for hours yet states openly hers is stifling and removes same, touching it inappropriately. The President flouts his government’s own regulation, meeting with more than the permitted number of persons in public gatherings with no regard to social distancing.
Additionally, there is a lack of literature as to the Ministry’s holistic policy direction, if any, being implemented. Likewise from the smattering of comments by education officials a coherent policy approach is wanting. When we look at the supposed strategy unfolding through the “care packages” initiative it seems haphazard at best, totally lacking in uniformity. Parents are now consistently confused and complaining as to what obtains and what follows.
As a legislator who, together with parliamentary colleagues, approved a five billion COVID-19 package for the people of Guyana, a recent fact-finding visit to President College did not offer assurance that the funds are finding fertile ground. Students were entering the compound untested. Though some parents were reluctant to speak, many admitted that they themselves were not tested and could be asymptomatic. Additionally I could not discern a system to sanitize hands or distribute masks to those students (or parents) who may be in need.
The disruption and other COVID-19 impacts on education systems globally are known. The United Nations policy brief ‘Education during COVID-19 and beyond’ states, “Preventing a learning crisis from becoming a generational catastrophe requires urgent action from all.”
The first recommended policy response is worth rehearsing here: “Suppress Transmission of the Virus and Plan Thoroughly For School Re-Openings: The single most significant step that countries can take to hasten the reopening of schools and education institutions is to suppress transmission of the virus to control national or local outbreaks. Once they have done so, to deal with the complex challenge of reopening, it is important to be guided by the following parameters: ensure the safety of all; plan for inclusive re-opening; listen to the voices of all concerned; and coordinate with key actors….”
We cannot play ignorant with the health of our most important stakeholders in the education sector – our students. We are now counting the cost of the hasty reopening of schools without an adequate plan. With the recent wave of COVID-19 related deaths, we know all too well, that dealt with improperly, this situation can have deadly consequences.
Sherod Avery Duncan, MP.