Public schools return to in-person classes in a hybrid model

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By Kathryn Campbell

As public students returned to classrooms for in-person learning throughout the nation January 24, the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin, Minister of Education and Technical & Vocational Training has called for a “collective commitment” to overcome the “dilemma” they face as a result of the impact of COVID-19 on education.

In an impassioned, televised National Address January 23, Minister Hanna-Martin declared an emergency and expressed the dire need to “reverse” and “avert” what could be a “devastating blow” to future prospects.

“The last two years have seen unrelenting disruptions in education,” she said.

“The fully virtual learning experience has proven to be difficult for students, teachers and parents alike, for a variety of reasons. This has been especially so for children with special needs and children from lower economic communities. We also know that thousands of children have fully fallen off the radar having been absent from school for two years. These children span the range of preschool to grade 12. Where are these children now? And what will be their fate? We are in an emergency.”

Minister Hanna-Martin emphasized the importance of safety as students return to in-person learning in a hybrid model. “In this regard, we have been fully guided by the manual and procedures outlined by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, as to on campus protocols, inclusive of the reduction in the number of students allowed on campus at any given time, mandatory mask wearing, ventilation including maximized use of outdoors, mandatory social distancing, continuous observation and isolation where necessary.”

Free testing for children, teachers and other stakeholders is being offered by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

“In these circumstances, global evidence shows, children can resume in-person learning safely. This is where we know the process can begin for effective learning recovery and accelerated learning. This is where hope is restored and where we roll up our sleeves to ameliorate the fallout of COVID 19 on education.”

Moreover, Minister Hanna-Martin indicated that the week commencing January 24 has been deemed a “transitional” that will allow administration, teachers, students and parents to reacclimatize to face-to face-instruction.

“In the first phase, children who do not have uniforms are free to come to school appropriately dressed. Going forward, we will work closely with the Ministry of Social Services to assure that children needing assistance are able to access same in efficient manner.” Among the initiatives on the drawing board is diagnostic testing of every child in public school to ascertain the extent of learning loss. Mrs. Hanna-Martin said a Learning Recovery committee has been established to provide recommendations and develop strategies for appropriate responses and learning recovery programmes, based on the extent of learning loss of each child.

“These programmes will focus primarily on the foundations of literacy and numeracy. This emergency is also an opportunity to redress the many long standing deficiencies in our education system.”

She said meetings via Zoom with over 3,000 teachers and education professionals, principals, vice-principals and district superintendents nationwide, to understand their concerns, ideas and vision for education have proven to be an invaluable process and will form the basis for future dialogue and new strategies, to enhance morale and well being and positive productivity.

In addition to a revision of the High School Diploma requirements and curriculum reform, inclusive of a focus on literacy and numeracy, an enhanced platform for technical and vocational training, she has mandated a more developed physical education programme, a feeder programme for the creative arts into a new tertiary institute for the performing arts now being developed; a new history curriculum with emphasis on Bahamian history founded upon character development and an encouraged critical thinking. The Ministry is also recruiting new teachers to address shortages, with an emphasis on priority areas.

Minister Hanna-Martin thanked educators and specialized support professionals for their love and commitment to the building of children. “Our duty now is to take these critical steps towards certainty and normalcy. That begins with the introduction of the hybrid learning model that we are implementing, and we hope to transition to full-on in-person learning when it is safe to do so. We are taking this step so that we can lessen the current educational crisis and save a generation of our children, especially the most economically vulnerable, from irreparable learning loss. I am sure that this is something that every education professional can appreciate and get behind.”

Minister Hanna-Martin remarked that the collaborative efforts of the Ministry of Works, Ministry of Finance, the commitment of individual contractors and the Prime Minister himself, has resulted in an impressive acceleration of Summer School Repairs most especially at Sybil Strachan Primary, CW Sawyer Primary, Yellow Elder Primary and L.W Young Jr. High Schools.

She advised that recent discoveries by the Ministry of Works and Utilities at T.A Thompson Jr. High School and at Uriah McPhee Primary School, may require that in the short term, some students will have to remain in virtual learning.

“We are maintaining very close contact with the Ministry of Works and monitoring the progress of these works, so as to gain a full understanding of what alternative strategies must be deployed,” she said.