The resumption of face-to-face classes today Monday, October 4, for the Forms Four to Six secondary school students was welcomed by Catholic educators. They are happy to see the children back because while safety remains a priority during the Covid pandemic, they stated education was not only about tuition.
“What we are looking forward to is 100 per cent of the students being back in school…. schooling is more than learning facts and information; a lot of schooling is about socialisation…they learn from the teachers’ behaviour in the classroom, the way teachers interact with them and with each other…” said Chief Education Officer of the Catholic Education Board of Management Sharon Mangroo.
From the middle of August, the Pfizer vaccine became available for all citizens/ residents ages 12-18 regardless of whether they are registered at schools. Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on August 28 said fully vaccinated students in Forms Four to Six would be allowed to have face-to-face classes. All schools reopened virtually on September 6 for the new academic year.
The CEBM met September 30 with its seven Catholic secondary schools—St Francis Boys’ College, Presentation College Chaguanas, Presentation San Fernando, St Benedict’s College, St Anthony’s College, Matelot Community School, St Joseph’s College. The status of their preparations was discussed. Mangroo said five out of seven worked out a rotation (e.g., seven, ten days) schedule for their students. St Francis will can accommodate their students every day. Schools have met with their teachers and parents on the plans. Online sensitisation sessions about the Covid-19 vaccine were conducted for parents to respond to their concerns and clarify misconceptions.
Mangroo said even with just Forms 4-6, “all of them can’t fit at the same time…they will work out some protocols.” She added that at the end of the first rotation, the schools will do an evaluation to see what needs to be adjusted. Some will have four class periods while others have more. Mangroo said the continuation of Zoom classes and face-to-face depends on the facilities at each school. Presentation College Chaguanas has classes outfitted so lessons can be streamed while in progress. “A teacher really cannot be asked to teach the lesson in class then go and teach the same lesson by Zoom, you are asking some teachers to do two sets of work; some teachers, however, knowing our teachers, will do it anyway.”
Dexter Mitchell, Principal of Presentation College San Fernando said schooling was “not only delivering the curriculum but all the other aspects of school life”. Pupils have been missing out on “the true presentation experience.” The Ministry of Education has directed that no extra-curricular activities take place as yet; this term would have had ‘Intercol’, school bazaar and Christmas events. Mitchell said he was happy for his students to be back out because he saw their joy being on the compound when they had exams; they told him they were missing school. “Whether we like it or not, Covid will be with us for a while and we have to start, more or less, learning how to co-exist with it”. Some “policing” will have to take place because “students will be students,” he said. Presentation held an online meeting with parents on October 1 which was attended by more than 300 parents. He hoped that afterwards, parents would realise “there are greater benefits to the children being vaccinated and in school than unvaccinated and outside there”. The students writing exams next year will be asked to attend school twice weekly. On Monday–Tuesday, Form Fives will be out; Wednesday-
Thursday, Upper Six. The students to be admitted to Lower Six are awaiting their CXC results and Fridays will be the Form Fours. The rotation days will be alternated as student have different subjects on different days.
The school will attempt to stream the in-person classes. Mitchell explained: “We have ensured all our multimedia cameras are working in the classroom that will be utilised. We are asking teachers to continue using their laptops, stream the classes using the multi-media, on to the whiteboard, so the students who are physically there can of course view the lessons, while those at home will be getting it via their devices.”
Principal of Fatima College, Fr Gregory Augustine CSSp said “the lack of physical interaction really plays on the being of the child”. He was concerned about the Forms Two and Threes home for an extended period. “In this virtual school there is no physical activity, no sporting, nothing; a major part of school life is that kind of interaction…what is the child to do? They really do feel demotivated, they lack the focus and the teacher has to contend with that.”
He was hopeful that with the green light given to be back in school, “as many [students] would have taken the vaccine to resume in-person school which is what we know.” Fr Gregory reported that almost all teachers were vaccinated and 100 per cent of civil service, cleaning and maintenance staff.
Matelot Community School will continue online schooling because none of its Form Four students have been vaccinated. One student wanted to be vaccinated but medical issues ruled them out. Meetings were held with parents and community medical personnel Wednesday, October 29, but there is vaccine hesitancy.
At a press briefing last Saturday, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh stated 42,683, 47.4 per cent of the 90,000 eligible school-age children had received a first dose and 30,278, 33.6 per cent were fully vaccinated.