By Mark A. Fulford – Attorney-at-law
The Press Conference held on Tuesday, August 11 2020 by the Premier and Minister of Education left the public with more questions than answers concerning the reopening of school.
It’s morally reprehensible that after six months, and with two weeks before the previously announced opening date, the current government cannot provide the students and parents of the Turks and Caicos Islands with a clear and concise plan to safely and effectively provide a learning environment for our children.
This same government has been able to clearly define guidelines for the reopening of bars and pubs, but now we find that it is still unclear how schools will reopen, and if so, how we can be assured that our children will be accommodated in a safe and healthy environment.
We have a moral obligation to get our children back in the classroom.
We also have a civic duty to ensure that once the school year resumes, every student is afforded world-class learning opportunities.
COVID-19 is but a test of our resolve and as a nation we must stand to, and pass, this test.
As a parent of two school-aged daughters, I share the concern of many parents who are eager for our children to get back in the classroom; but only if it’s safe for them to do so.
We understand that while online learning is usable, is not a replacement for the traditional classroom experience, especially in the case of pupils in the primary years where attention spans are just being developed.
But we cannot send our children back to school without first seeing the Ministry of Education’s plan to keep our children safe.
We as parents demand to see the blue print of the Plan and we should be invited to do a walk through of the classrooms before schools are reopen.
A proposed solution:
Citizens and residents of the TCI please do not despair or give up hope,
There is still an opportunity to save the school year and guarantee safe and effective education for our children.
I would encourage the government to employ a phased approach to the resumption of school to allow a safe and seamless reintegration of students to school life.
Subject to the Ministry of Education’s blue print being reviewed by parents, allow school to resume for high school students as planned, with different groups attending school at different intervals to allow for orientation and software dissemination.
At this point, devices can be qualified and requisite adjustments made. Students can then commence online learning as retrofit works are carried out for classrooms and meeting spaces.
Primary aged children can follow, based on how the high school students cope with the measures, to allow for integration and then the kindergarten years.
Once the online learning has commenced and retrofit works are done, students can then be scheduled to return to school in small groups on shift systems to slowly reintegrate the classroom presence into the curriculum.
The aim should be to have all students receiving at least 4 hours of classroom time per day by a timeframe and at least 6 hours a day by another time frame.
It is notable considering the four hours of education as an innovation that in Finland – which leads the world in education success and rankings – children do not begin school until age 7, and then attend only from 10am to 2 pm and yet Finland leads the world in nearly every category in global education rankings. This means we should not just try to cope, but there is an opportunity to reform toward higher success.
The return to classroom learning must not be rushed and it must not be abandoned.
We have a responsibility to ensure that this generation who has been entrusted to us, is put in a position to do better and to take this country further than us.
I understand the the Minister and Premier may be a bit overwhelmed, but I implore you all to do what is right by the students and parents of this country.
COVID-19 is everybody’s business and an educated society is even moreso.