COVID-19 update with Head of the Health Communications Team, Ambassador Elizabeth Thompson. (PMO)

Term Two of the 2020-2021 academic year is set to begin on Monday, January 18, with classes being taught online.

This is due to the ongoing public health situation, as Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Santia Bradshaw, explained during last night’s televised update.

She said initially, preparations were made for a gradual return to the physical classroom and resumption of face-to-face classes, but this was “regrettably” impacted by the upsurge in COVID-19 cases.

“Since the Prime Minister would’ve made her announcement that schools were not going back into the physical form until after the 14th [of January] … we’ve been spending a lot time in the Ministry of Education relooking the plans for reopening of school, whether in a full format or obviously in this case, virtual format.

“And of course, we lean towards online classes at this point in time, simply because we recognise that from the Ministry of Health’s perspective it’s important that we take time to make sure that the country gets a handle on these cases,” she explained, noting that consultations were held with teachers and other stakeholders on the way forward.

Minister Bradshaw also gave the assurance that the Ministry was working to ensure every student had access to a device.

She revealed that over 8,680 students had received devices during Term One, which was also disrupted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, there was a blended approach to teaching, as it was a mix of face-to-face and online classes at some schools, while others were able to continue within the classroom setting.

“I think you could appreciate as well that over the last term, we were getting ready to go back to the classroom environment. A number of students may not have come forward for devices, simply because they were doing a lot of face-to-face classes.”

The Education Minister revealed that data had since been collected to determine the number of students who still required devices, and provision was being made to ensure no child was disadvantaged.

Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Santia Bradshaw, announced that Term Two of the 2020-2021 academic year is set to begin on Monday, January 18, with classes being taught online. (PMO)

“We’ve compiled the majority of that data [and] we’ve estimated that we have between 4,000 and 5,000 kids, who may still not have electricity or [internet] connectivity at their respective homes, and the Government has made a decision, in the interim, to be able to proceed to purchase those devices on behalf of those students, so that we can ensure we can start school on the 18th of this month,” the Education Minister explained.

She added that Government was still aggressively working to finalise an arrangement with the Government of Kenya to obtain 21,000 devices.

Minister Bradshaw also reported that efforts were under way to help students with special needs transition to virtual learning.

Meanwhile, she praised teachers for their cooperation, noting that they had been undergoing the necessary retraining and retooling in preparation for the virtual classes.

She added this would be an ongoing exercise as “it is nothing that you can learn within a matter of a couple of days”, and thanked the Erdiston Teachers’ Training College, the Ministry’s partners through the Inter-American Development Bank, and universities in Finland for their assistance, in this regard.

The Education Minister also revealed that the Ministry would, in a matter of days, roll out a series of public service announcements tailored specifically for parents and guardians, to help them prepare their child or ward for the virtual classroom.

“Apart from having the device, it is also about making sure parents and students recognise that this is actually a learning platform. And while it may be different [and] may be difficult at times … we want [the students] to give 100 per cent in the online environment,” Minister Bradshaw pointed out, noting that the students would also be targeted in the sensitisation exercise.

Acknowledging that the pandemic has been taxing socially, economically and psychologically on persons, the Education Minister reassured that Government was doing everything possible to provide children with an education, with the support of teachers, parents and other stakeholders within the sector.  

nya.phillips@barbados.gov.bb

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