THE DOORS of our schools are scheduled to be reopened in three weeks time. Sadly, the stated date seems tentative now, given the current spike in COVID19 infections.
Whenever face-to-face classes resume however, the voices of our children will ring out across the classrooms, the school yards, on the roads to and from schools, and of course, in their homes as they tell their parents, their friends, and their relatives of their school day. Some will speak of books read or to be read. Others will speak of skills learned or to be learned. They will speak of old friendships renewed and new friendships formed. And they will do so while unconsciously, but intensively, reaffirming the central truth of our schools: they are the single most important institution in providing our children with the intellectual and social skills necessary for them to successfully navigate the route from adolescence to adulthood.
In the horror of the COVID19 pandemic, the fate of our children has often gone unacknowledged. Against the backdrop of millions dead and global economic disruption, few have commented on the fact that because of the large scale closure of schools everywhere and the use of online learning alternatives, hundreds of millions of children have lost more than a year of education from which recovery will be difficult. But as the pandemic drags on for a second year, it is now abundantly clear that the damage to our children is incalculable.
We are sympathetic to the view that some of this was unavoidable. At the beginning of the pandemic we had no effective vaccine to deploy against the virus. We had no medically approved treatment shown to be effective against the disease. And we clearly could not risk children becoming infected in their schools and taking home a virus that might leave the children unharmed but kill their parents or grandparents. In a country like St Vincent and the Grenadines where extended families live together in close settings, this was a genuine risk. Effectively, we weighed the risks of disrupting our children’s education against the risk of a lethal infection being let loose in their homes and we chose to sacrifice our children’s learning.
This sacrifice must end. And it must end now. This pandemic is perpetuating itself because of conscious choices made by conscious adults. We currently have powerful vaccines that can bring this pandemic under control. Billions of vaccines have been delivered across the world. We also now know much more about the mitigation protocols such as mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing, which if followed religiously, substantially reduce the risk of the spread of the virus.
So we view with genuine alarm the extraordinary recklessness of anyone, including church leaders who would invite his or her flock to congregate without observing Covid19 protocols. No pastor, no priest, no religious leader of any faith can claim the right to expose their congregants, including children, to the risk of a lethal virus.
In all the debates over an individual right to receive or refuse the COVID vaccines, those making the case for the right to refuse the vaccine cannot offer an alternative means through which we can crush the pandemic in the fastest time possible. That’s because there is none. And they have been utterly silent on, or blind to the fact that the continuation of the pandemic is absolutely destructive to the welfare of our children because it would rob them of the education and social nurturing that only face-to-face learning in a school environment can provide.
With St Vincent and the Grenadines now experiencing a sharp increase in COVID19 cases, our children’s education is deeply imperilled. A return to online classes at the beginning of the school year would be a complete catastrophe for our children. We cannot sacrifice our children’s education on the altar of ignorance, political opportunism, or the sheer egotism of those to whom fighting against the vaccines have apparently given purpose to their lives. It is time that Vincentian adults take on fully the burden of defeating COVID19 by every means necessary and provide our children a safe platform for the restoration of their learning in the classrooms, halls, and playgrounds of our schools.