Wednesday 21 October, 2020

School reopening on a phased basis from October 5, says Williams

Jamaican children are to return to school on a phased basis beginning October 5, based on a vulnerability index and risk ranking measure.

This was announced on Friday by Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Fayval Williams, during a meeting with the newly-established E-COVID Management Task Force.

During the meeting, the stakeholders embraced the path that was laid out, and committed to work with the ministry, according to a statement it released.

Williams assured members of the task force that the ministry has already allocated funds to schools since June for their back-to-school reopening programme, and stands ready to revisit additional requests related to COVID-19 protocols.

To date, infant schools and early childhood institutions have been collectively allocated $24.9 million; primary schools were allocated just over $577 million, and secondary schools $3.4 billion.

The original date to reopen schools was pushed back from September 7 as the country started experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

As of Thursday, the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the island stood at 4,571, with 55 deaths.

During an earlier meeting of the E-COVID Management Task Force, Williams said the ministry was assessing schools based on geoinformatics, demographic and health data. She said the plan is to develop a vulnerability index using a risk ranking approach to inform the phased reopening of the learning institutions.

Williams said the ministry was being guided by a range of factors that were being used to determine vulnerability profiles of the communities in which the schools are located. These include:

·       Risk ranking of communities

·       Ministry of Health and Wellness inspection report – Covid-19 protocol readiness

·       State of the physical infrastructure

·       Adequacy of teaching and support staff

·       Quality of Internet connectivity for the blended approach

The plan involves varied approaches, including full face-to-face class engagement; a hybrid scenario (that is, face-to-face and remote learning); and full remote learning.

“We are not in normal times and the ministry is being very deliberate in its approach to ensure that students, teachers, administrators and support staff are operating in safety,” Williams stated.

And State Minister in the ministry, Robert Morgan underscored the importance of collaboration among education stakeholders.

“We are trying to get the experts to assess the efficacy of this approach. No individual group can solve this problem by themselves. For this to work, we will require unprecedented levels of co-operation and collaboration to allow for the two-way flow of communication,” he said.

Members of the task force reportedly raised questions about the management of the COVID-19 pandemic across the island, with specific reference to the school population, access to Internet services, and the distribution of tablets.

A public education campaign is to be launched to sensitise the stakeholders as part of the preparations for the new normal for education.

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