A parent’s dilemma: New school year, same frustration

Many parents have been balancing a full-time job with home schooling their children
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Hundreds of dollars have been spent on uniforms, shoes, school supplies and school fees in preparation for the opening of the September 2021 school year, only to be hit by a revolving door of more of the same old.

Some parents and guardians begged, some borrowed and some recycled what they could, with high hopes that schools would reopen for face-to-face lessons.

But once more, parents and students are left in the dark about the school days to come, while the option of “home schooling” so easily rolls off the tongue of those in authority.

Parents like myself are frustrated at not knowing the prospects of our children’s academic progress and social skills and, frankly, our own sanity.

Let’s be honest, most of us are not cut out for the teaching profession and I am afraid that those who thought they were would have jumped ship upon realising how long their period of work-in-training to be an at-home-teacher would be.

Who can blame them? Having to balance two, maybe three, full time jobs of being a teacher, a breadwinner and a parent has crippled their productivity. No breathers, no breaks, no mental or financial support, just never-ending days stuck in an unfamiliar routine, most of us trotting on by sheer grace.

As a middle-income worker in a single parent household, I have wanted many times to just give up – give up on teaching and give up on working things out. I just wanted to stop trying.

It is a sad reality but a reality nonetheless that parents are no longer able to hide their disappointment as they struggle to keep up good spirits and to laugh at this tragedy.

We have tried our best to cope with an unprecedented situation in uncharted waters, but let’s face facts – our children have lost six terms without proper interaction and face-to-face education with a substitute teacher of a parent who on many occasions has had to re-learn their own teachings.

Imagine having to relearn the basic of Mathematics and Science then teaching it to your child, hoping that your explanation can suffice.

The ministries of health and education said plans were in place to begin face-to-face learning come September, but that was before Covid cases began to spike in numbers not seen before in this country.

So, without having to say it, everyone knew that it was back to remote learning for our little ones. We slowly mustered up whatever vigour we had left, secretly hoping that almost two years later there would be better planning.

Alas and perhaps not so surprisingly, the education system which we have pumped millions of tax dollars into for years is as underprepared and under-manned for the task as much as we are.

The Ministry of Education no doubt had to deal with numerous transfers for private school students to enter the public school system and why wouldn’t it be so, when hundreds of parents have lost their jobs and can no longer provide the way they once could.

That may well be one reason why some students are without text books this term, because there simply aren’t enough to go around, or perhaps it is why some teachers seem so woefully unprepared to execute their lessons on the Google Classroom platform.

Three weeks into the term and I have never seen the face of the teacher who is meant to educate my child and she has only ever published one video lesson from which the students are to be guided.

For whatever reason, I have been unable to contact her directly since every call seems to be through the use of a private number. She has her reasons, I suspect.

The eBooks programme seems to be still uploading – all pun intended – and the dismal internet connectivity islandwide does nothing to aid the learning process.

Now that the government has mandated vaccines for its workers, parents are left even more unsure about the outcome of school reopening.  

It is already difficult to reach a significant portion of students who do not have the resources to participate in online classes, but now there may be even less teachers to teach a growing number of students in the public school system.

The government said it is making preparations to open up secondary schools for face-to-face learning while at the same time removing regulations for any primary school plants to remain open.

For a parent who is only able to work because her teenager monitors the younger siblings, this is another moment of frustration. It may be the moment she will decide whether to keep her job or be home with her young children who have no one else to look after them.

After all, not everyone has the option of taking their children to work with them – an activity that comes with its own trials.

These wide-scale closures have not only affected teaching for students, but key assessment exams have been postponed and or cancelled.

At this point, no one knows the true implications of Covid-19 on the education system in Antigua and Barbuda and, by extension, the world.

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