THE announcement that the State is considering plans which could see all remaining secondary school students return to physical classrooms within two weeks, once vaccinated, is to be welcomed.
In making the announcement during the budget debate on Friday afternoon, Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly presented a case for the urgency of this measure.
“Our children not being in the physical classroom cannot be cured by online school,” she noted. “And, at this point in time, our teachers are straddling two systems and it is difficult for them.”
She said once all goes well, the return to classrooms will greatly simplify the current hybrid learning situation.
This is an important moment.
For far too long, students have had to endure online classes which are known to be vastly inferior to real-life lessons.
Anyone who has memories of childhood days knows the complex interplay of physical, psychological and social dynamics within a school compound that contribute not only to the growth of knowledge but also the building of character.
Staring into a small, glowing screen for hours can and will never compare.
Online learning has always been a stop-gap measure. With the arrival of covid19 vaccines, a clearer understanding of the nature of this disease and the steps required to ensure safety, as well as the lingering issue of lack of access to necessary equipment, the time has come for the education system to change its trajectory. Too many months have been lost.
Though the minister’s announcement was overshadowed by the subsequent melee caused by the premature end of the budget debate a few hours later, it still managed to trigger some unease among anxious parents who remain hesitant. Such fear is not shared by students themselves, many of whom appear eager to get back to it.
“I want to go back to school,” one form one student told Newsday on Sunday. “I don’t like online school. It’s harder to learn.”
Confirmation by the Government on Monday that the expiry date for the Pfizer vaccine has been extended from November to next February, under international guidelines, enhances the viability of the State’s plan to bring fully vaccinated students back into the physical classroom.
But for that plan to fully work, school administrators need to work very carefully with teachers and parents to address relevant concerns. The highly transmissible delta variant – confirmed to be in our midst – has caused considerable fear. And quite rightly so.
Checks and balances must be made to ensure the safety of the nation's schoolchildren.
Vaccines provide the best protection currently available and when combined with other measures, such as the use of masks and regular sanitisation, risks may be reduced.
While the situation is more complex with regard to the unvaccinated, the benefits of vaccinated students attending school are clear and by far outweigh the risks once all safety protocols are strictly adhered to.