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New school term: Schools continue dealing with Covid-19 challenges

Photo source: St Mary's College Facebook Page

The Catholic Education Board of Management reported a “relatively uneventful” reopening of Catholic RC primary and secondary schools it has oversight for, but schools have been impacted by Covid-19.

Chief Executive Officer of the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) Sharon Mangroo disclosed, “The main issue was teachers on quarantine, as many as five in one school that makes supervision of students a challenge.” Principals coped by reorganising timetables; teachers that were unavailable for physical school switched to online classes.

Mangroo, and organisations representing the principals of primary, public secondary and assisted schools attended an online meeting with Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly on Tuesday, January 11 to discuss the Ministry’s draft recommendations for Terms Two and Three school operations. The education bodies shared their recommendations.

In recommendations submitted, the CEBM asked the Ministry to continue allowing school principals the “autonomy and flexibility to manage their schools with the goal of optimal student learning attendance under healthy and safe conditions.”

The establishment of an online Question and Answer forum for teachers/schools, Mangroo explained, would enable the Ministry to field any questions which arise from principals and teachers in a timely manner. Some questions could relate to rapid testing, schools as safe zones and contact tracing. The CEBM stated, “Knowledge reduces fear and anxiety, and it will facilitate the feeling of being connected.”

Now that students are physically present, it proposed the Student Support Services Divisions could be engaged to develop curriculum activities “that best utilise” the students’ presence in the school. Mangroo told the Catholic News this can include teachers focusing on children who need extra attention.

While principals were looking forward to the resumption of physical schooling, there was concern about: provision of resources, e.g., soap, disinfectant, and non-consumables such as fans; the safe distancing of students with available classroom space, supervision of students when teachers are on breaks/lunch or otherwise engaged or absent due to leave/quarantine. Additional On-the-Job Trainees (OJTs) were requested.

The CEBM recommended priority for physical schooling be given to students without online access. It relayed the view of principals not in favour of splitting

classes because of the consequent repetition of lessons and reduced the completion of the syllabus. They suggested attendance rotations by class level. Following the meeting, Mangroo said another issue that came up was persons returning with negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests who later are Covid positive.

The ministry provided updates on the filling of vacancies and appointment of heads of departments. Principals who need additional support from On-the-Job Trainees should send in their requests. Cabinet has approved 69 Technical and Vocational Education and Training posts.

The 50 percent student rotation attendance proposed by the Ministry based on capacity has to be approved by the Health Ministry. Cabinet is being asked to approve an additional teacher post for the primary schools’ establishment for supervision assistance.

“The MoE is developing health procedures that will apply to all schools for submission to the Ministry of Health. That will allow for a degree of standardisation not now existing across County Medical Offices,” Mangroo said.