Schools across St Vincent and the Grenadines will open virtually on October 4, due to the rise in COVID-19 cases. A blended approach is likely to be adopted in two weeks later, and there will be considerations for face-to-face learning later in the term.
This was the information relayed by Minister of Education, Curtis King in a Ministerial statement in the House of Assembly yesterday, September 30.
He however pointed out that the safe reopening of schools is dependent on teachers having received their COVID-19 vaccinations.
However, the statistics currently show that hundreds of teachers at primary and secondary levels are not vaccinated.
The number of COVID-19 positive cases shot up last week, confirming a spike that had been threatening since the start of September. With the uptick, there have been consultations between the relevant authorities about the format to be adopted when the new school year starts on October 4.
Yesterday, it was revealed that the ministry had decided to begin with online learning for the next two weeks, before they test the waters with a blended approach, that is, a mixture of online and in-person learning. The blended approach is anticipated to commence on October 18.
“With regards to this phase, schools with the capacity to physical distance will have full face-to-face engagement for all students,” King emphasised.
“Secondly, schools unable to accommodate full face-to-face engagement due to population size, will have on site classes on a rotational basis with greater focus on the entry and exit level,” that is to say Grades K and six, and Forms one and five.
However, the minister said that persons shouldn’t become stuck on what ‘blended’ will mean, “Because, we allow ourselves that flexibility to so organise our respective institutions, based on the peculiar unique situation facing the institution.”
The suitable format that they are to use will be communicated to the stakeholders by the respective heads of schools.
“…Now we are hoping that the blended learning model will not last forever. We are hoping that some time during this school term, based on the situation in the country with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, that conditions would return to a favourable situation where we can move to the final phase,” or face-to-face instruction.
In restating the COVID-19 protocols, the minister also touched on the issue of vaccination.
“…Given that this issue is also critical to a safe and healthy environment at the respective institutions, I want to bring to the attention of this Parliament, of course the listening public, the situation with regard to our teachers and their level of vaccination coverage,” King commented.
They received statistics from some of the schools across the country in this regard.
“At the Secondary level we had responses from 27 of our 29 Secondary schools. And these two schools that did not respond were basically, very small schools,” he informed. They also received vaccination status’ from three of the four Technical Institutes.
“Of 875 teachers, 345 were vaccinated, representing a percentage of 39.4% of our teachers, vaccinated.”
Some schools, such as the St Martin Secondary School are showing high levels of vaccinated staff, with 37 of the approximately 38 teachers being confirmed vaccinated.
On the other end of the spectrum, at the St Vincent Grammar School,out “of a total of 57 teachers, only five of those teachers have indicated that they are vaccinated,” the Education Minister said.
“I want to reiterate that the safe reopening of our schools is also dependent on the coverage among our teachers with regards to vaccination,” he stressed.
In the case of the Primary schools only 25 of 67 submitted the status’s of their staff.
“…We have received responses from only 302 teachers, and of this number, 175 are vaccinated, giving a percentage thus far of some 58% of those teachers being fully or partially vaccinated,” King disclosed.
“…We have to urge our teachers, and all other users of the school compound, whether they be janitors or other persons, to please, get vaccinated. Our students have lost much. I mean we have made that point over and over. And all of us, parents, guardians, teachers and other stakeholders, we want to get back to the ideal face-to-face instruction…,” the Minster said.
“…The only how that we are going to do so is if we feel comfortable that in returning to these institutions, we would be doing so within a safe and healthy environment. And in any event, all of us, the entire country, wants that to happen, but we have to do what is necessary to ensure that we get back there, and that is why I’m urging, I’m pleading with our teachers and all those other persons who have to use our school compounds from day to day to please, get vaccinated, so that we could save our nation’s children and so better prepare them for the future which is theirs.”