Educators not in support of a repeat year for students affected by pandemic

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By Elesha George

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Educators are in agreement that letting students repeat a year in order to catch up with the school curriculum is not the best way to resolve the challenges of remote learning once activities normalise.

On-campus learning for students in Antigua and Barbuda has been interrupted for almost a year since the first case of Covid-19 was discovered in Antigua in March 2020.

While some, mainly children who attend private schools returned to school for a brief period from September 2020 to January 2021, the majority of the thousands of students on island have been unable to participate in face-to-face learning.

Zahra Airall

Educator Zahra Airall said online learning is not working for the majority of students and it is unjust to umbrella the adaptability of others to justify the success of remote education.

“We also cannot make these children feel like something is wrong with them. We cannot make them feel that they are not resilient because they are not adapting, that they are not coping,” she said.

Clinical psychologist, teacher and parent, Feona Charles-Richards, said the challenge of introducing the repeat year goes back to the whole idea of local culture and the stigma associated with being held back.

According to Charles-Richards “not everybody is at the same place mentally. Some of these children are cracking. I remember reaching out to some students that I have that are usually top performers and two of them broke down crying because they’re just not adapting to remote learning”.

She believes that establishing a repeat year at schools would further devastate some students who are genuinely trying to adapt to online learning during the pandemic, simply because “in this society we still associate repeating a year with failure”.

Secondary school principal and President of the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT), Ashworth Azille, also agrees that the move should not be entertained, saying that it would “bring into play a whole lot of implications for the education system”, including a large percentage of students piling up to sit entrance and exit exams.

His suggestion is for schools to work with students who have become disconnected via remote learning, in order to bring them up to speed with the curriculum.

“Simply to do a carte blanche suggestion for a ‘gap’ year for all levels, I think, could be particularly devastating to our education system, and it is not one that I would give my support to at all,” he said.

Azille added that the education system must be willing to respond appropriately and not be so concerned about students passing exams that it ignores the developmental needs of the children.

“Our examining bodies will have to be realistic and do a proper assessment of the sort of coverage that would have taken place during this particular period right across the region, particularly as it relates to CXC, and modify the examinations to suit,” he posited.

Azille, who shared that his students have expressed difficulty with adapting to online learning, commented that “it’s never the same thing. The experience is not the same”.

“We are seeing the sort of detachment from some students where, yes, they have access to internet; yes, they have access to devices, but they are disconnected because in their minds the option for learning is not their preferred option, and so they’re choosing not to participate as readily as they should.

“So, schools are going to have an awesome task, I think, in bridging the gaps that have been created as a result of these inequities in the learning system at the moment,” he stated.

Weighing on her experience as a counsellor, Charles-Richards shared how parents have been calling and seeking counselling for their children during the pandemic.

The students, however, are not the only ones being challenged in this unprecedented situation. Parents and teachers have the task of balancing both home, work, and school life under a wavering year-long state of emergency.

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