The Michaelmas school term (Term I), which begins on Monday, September 21, will be shortened by two weeks this year, bringing it to a close on Friday, December 11.
During an update on the reopening of schools last evening, Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Santia Bradshaw, also announced that based on discussions with stakeholders so far, the preferred option for reopening schools seems to be the blended approach, that is, a mix of face-to-face and online learning.
Minister Bradshaw explained that discussions with unions, principals and teachers over the past few weeks produced about seven options for the reopening of schools. These were then, whittled down to two possible approaches – the shift system and the blended approach.
However, she said, the shift system would present problems for a number of parents.
“We recognise that the shift system, while it may be useful for some parents, there are some parents who have several children and in many cases trying to balance the picking up of students from the various institutions may present some challenges. Over the course of the past few days, we have had a lot of feedback from our respective principals and also teachers and parents, as it relates to the shift system, and I am thankful that the parents have been communicating with the principals to better advise them on how to prepare for the start of the September term.
“Our schools are, therefore, finalising plans over the course of the next few days as to what school will look like and how school will start to emerge. Many of the questions that have been asked relate to the curriculum and what it will look like. We acknowledge that there may be some challenges as it relates to making sure students do the entire curriculum over the course of the next 12 weeks because I have also made the decision that the school term will also end December 11, giving you 12 weeks instead of 14 weeks,” the Education Minister stated.
Moreover, she disclosed that the first two weeks of the term would be used for students’ reintegration into the classroom as well as an assessment period for teachers to identify and address any deficits or challenges they may have after being at home for quite some time.
Minister Bradshaw said the Ministry’s next move would be to engage with parents through the National Parent-Teacher Association and the executive members of the various PTAs, so that they could contribute to the discussion on reopening schools. She also urged parents to become more actively involved in the PTAs, adding that going forward “every school must have an active PTA”.
The Minister issued a call for more parent volunteers to assist schools in “better organising” the school day, whether through taking temperatures or helping teachers in the classrooms. Giving a snapshot of the structure of the school day, Ms. Bradshaw said there would be staggered breaks and lunchtimes, which will be supervised. Students will be encouraged to eat in their classrooms, and packed lunches will be preferred over students visiting canteens.
Additionally, masks are expected to be worn, but allowances have been made in instances where illness prevent students or teachers from wearing them for extended periods, she noted. However, on the advice of health officials, desks are to be six feet apart if students are to remove their masks while in class, and if desks are situated closer, then masks should be worn at all times.
The Ministry will provide masks and face shields for teachers and students through generous donations from UNICEF and private entities, but Ms. Bradshaw advised parents to also provide their children with masks.
On the issue of public transportation, she said she had met with officials from the Ministry of Transport, Works and Water Resources to look at the additional health and safety protocols that would have to be put in place with the increased numbers of children commuting, along with revisions to the scheduling of buses to accommodate students. The Education Minister said she intended to brief the country regularly on the new protocols and expectations for teachers and students as they prepare to return to the classroom environment.