ONE OF THE most distressing aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the disruption it has caused to the education of our children. We have in previous editorials expressed our concern for the state of affairs and its impact on not just our children’s academic and sporting development but also their socialization and mental health.
Online learning has been disruptive at best and at worst, catastrophic for some students, particularly those from our most disadvantaged homes.
This week our children began the transition back to face-to-face learning. Some schools have already resumed in person classes for all their students while others are taking it in stages; blending face-to-face sessions with online classes until the situation is deemed safe enough for all students to be present at the school plant at the same time.
No one with the welfare of our children at heart is against the resumption of in-person classes, but everyone is concerned that the process be undertaken safely; some fear that this step has been taken precipitously, given the number of active COVID-19 cases and our high positivity rate.
But when will it be safe enough to re-open schools for in-person teaching and learning? If not now, when? No one can say for sure, given the unpredictable nature of the Sars-Cov-2 virus. And it is that very unpredictability has brought us to the realization that the pandemic may drag on for several more months, even years. When the first case of COVID-19 was identified in St Vincent and the Grenadines in March 2020, few persons expected that we would still be battling the effects and spread of the infection 21 months later. We have marked time long enough. We must move forward.
In July 2021, in a joint statement, UNICEF and UNESCO said the reopening of schools for in-person learning cannot wait; it cannot wait for cases to go to zero or for all teachers and students to be vaccinated.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) are the two United Nations agencies whose work focuses most closely on education and the needs of children. In their joint statement, they said there is clear evidence that “primary and secondary schools are not among the main drivers of transmission”, and that the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools is “manageable with appropriate mitigation strategies in most settings”.
Our children will adapt to the new normal once clearly defined protocols are put in place and the rules are consistently enforced. School administrators cannot start off “hot and sweaty” with the enforcement on the school compound, then tire as the school year winds down. The protocols need to be as routine as taking attendance or rising when teachers enter the room. The Sars-Cov-2 virus does not tire. Neither can we.