The safe return to the physical classroom was the focus of discussions when the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Jean Gough, paid a courtesy call on Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Santia Bradshaw, on Tuesday.
During the meeting, which was held at the Ministry’s, Constitution Road, St. Michael office, the two officials agreed the lack of face-to-face instruction, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had seriously impacted primary and secondary school students.
It was further noted that although measures were implemented to facilitate online learning, there were still some disadvantages, namely issues relating to lack of devices and connectivity.
Ms. Bradshaw and Ms. Gough also acknowledged that the transition had its challenges for both students and teachers, pointing out that the virtual environment removed the vital student-teacher interaction.
It is against this background that the Education Minister explained that her Ministry was working towards the reopening of schools by January 2022. However, Ms. Bradshaw told the UNICEF official that the rising number of new COVID-19 infections remained their biggest concern.
She said the resumption of physical classes would be dependent on the advice of their counterparts in the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
Acknowledging the longstanding relationship between her Ministry and UNICEF, she highlighted some areas for additional cooperation, including the installation of sanitising stations in each classroom, and the provision of additional devices to ensure all children have access to the virtual classroom.
Praising the Ministry of Education for its efforts so far, Ms. Gough offered to assist in a number of areas, including enhancing cyber security for students, and the revision of protocols to ensure the physical school environment was safe for all.
Minister Bradshaw and the UNICEF representative also discussed the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccines among students in the 12 to 18 age category, as well as among the general population.