By Orville Williams
As the country grapples with an increase in Covid-19 infections, a decision has been made for the new academic year to commence on Monday – but with face-to-face lessons postponed for a further three weeks.
Anticipation has been building over the past several weeks about the return of teaching, especially after the many disruptions that the education sector faced over the past year, considering the number of active Covid cases on the island and amid the increased threat of the Delta variant to the younger population.
Some fears, especially about the spread of the virus among children, will be alleviated by the delay of face-to-face learning, during which time the Ministries of Health and Education will collaborate to ensure as many students and school staff as possible get vaccinated; mobile vaccination units are expected to form part of this effort.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas also advised that the return of face-to-face learning on October 4 is dependent on the level of Covid infections around that time and also the level of vaccinations.
Teachers, however, will be required to report to their respective schools starting Monday to carry out their remote learning duties, while orientation sessions for Form 1 – in regard to secondary schools – and Grade 1 – with respect to primary schools – will be permitted during that week, to allow teachers to communicate the parameters for remote learning.
The teachers and ancillary staff at the schools will also be subject to the government’s adjusted health policy, meaning they will need to either get vaccinated or submit to free twice-monthly Covid testing as a requirement to enter the school premises.
In an attempt to streamline the process, the Health Ministry has agreed to make testing available on the school grounds, by way of the nurses that are already part of the school system.
For private schools, their teachers will similarly be subject to the vaccination/testing requirement, but they will also benefit from the free testing that has been available to public sector employees.
Unlike their counterparts though, the private schools will be allowed to commence face-to-face learning next week, once it can be proven that their teachers and other staff are fully vaccinated.