THE WORLD Health Organisation declared the covid19 virus a pandemic on March 11. The term pandemic refers not necessarily to the severity of a particular illness, but rather to the rapidity and intensity of spread around the globe. The intention of such a declaration was to precipitate preparedness plans by governments and to trigger emergency procedures to protect the public, such as more drastic travel and trade restrictions.
To date the Government has been extremely judicious in the measures taken to preserve the lives of citizens. While, regrettably there have been some infections and fatalities, the anticipated level of success in terms of mitigating the spread of covid19 across the country is extremely high.
Furthermore, the State’s efforts to provide various forms of financial relief for workers and businesses negatively impacted by the cessation of many industries and activities is commendable. The improved capacity of the public health sector can be viewed as an invaluable boost to national development.
The drawdowns by the Ministry of Finance from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund to sustain the State during this lag of production and trade is a necessity during this traumatic period of our nation’s history. The Ministry of Education must be commended for using various media sources to continue curriculum delivery to students.
The suddenness with which our government had to take some severe decisions over the past few weeks has clearly demonstrated its intention to mollify the possibility of a national economic crisis.
There will be time enough to examine and comment upon the long-term impact of the economic policy decisions taken. With schools due to reopen possibly in May, however, some attention must be given to the policies which would and should guide education strategies at least for the rest of the year.
The lack of preparedness to address the realities facing our education system now is apparent. The reliance on high-stakes assessments to further education objectives and the need to diversify curriculum delivery must now be discussed seriously.
The absence of viable policies to ensure continuity of schooling and education during national emergencies now has to form part of our policy planning in the future.
Finally, the mobilisation of resources to restart and stabalise the education system must be strategically established to be effective in the shortest possible time.
As the Government considered its actions in the face of the public health emergency posed by the spread of covid19, the Minister of Education engaged TTUTA on the postponement of the SEA. TTUTA agreed to the postponement to the earlier date. Considerable efforts have been made to continue information dissemination to SEA candidates.
In other jurisdictions, decisions have already been made to postpone national and standardised examinations, in some instances as far as to 2021, or to utilise alternative forms of assessments at appropriate times in the future. What is the ministry’s plan in this regard?
The routines which these young ones are accustomed to have been severely disrupted. Is it reasonable to believe that remote teaching, and a phone call to an officer of the Student Support Services would be enough for all of these students to remain focused?
There is so much concern around the processes of the SEA – the marking of papers and the placement of students by a particular time. What about the impact of this emergency on these children?
Those children whose parents and family members are health professionals or essential services workers? Those children who during this time of “stay at home” still may not receive the emotional and psychological support anticipated? What about those children with special needs and learning disabilities who benefit from individual attention given by teachers?
There is much research which highlights the importance of positive student-teacher interaction on the quality of student learning. This is not a time for arrogance and authoritarianism as the fate of these students hangs in the balance.
Heaven forbid that the state of affairs requires a delay in the reopening of school – as has happened. Will the ministry now push ahead with the SEA, without meaningful consultation with stakeholders? The strategy adopted by the ministry in this regard will have significant implications for years to come. It is imperative therefore that proper precedents be set.
Part II next week