Ahead of the prospective return of face-to-face learning here in Antigua and Barbuda, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) has reaffirmed the importance of that teaching method, versus online or remote learning.
The government has advised that the reopening of schools – tentatively set for October 4 – will be dependent on the level of risk associated with Covid at that time.
With cases continuing to rise – and the most recent Ministry of Health dashboard indicating 964 active Covid cases – it could mean further delays to face-to-face classes to ensure students’ and teachers’ safety.
But PAHO Director, Dr Carissa Etienne, reiterated that every effort should be made to restart in-person learning, given the impact it can have on many students.
“Beyond the direct impact on their health, the virus indirectly has consequences and is hindering their growth and development, jeopardising their chances at a bright future,” she said.
“Lockdowns and economic disruptions have increased the risks of domestic violence and for many kids, homes may not be a safe place.
“Our kids have missed more school days than children in any other region and despite efforts to leverage virtual classrooms, these can never substitute in-person schooling because schools are not only places where children get an education, they are also places where children socialise and can receive mental health support or a nutritious meal.
“Each day that children go without in-person schooling, the higher the likelihood that they drop out and never return to school,” Dr Etienne said.
Dr Etienne also urged parents, adults and the wider public alike, to ensure the safety of younger children as best they can, especially because many of them cannot yet access Covid-19 jabs.
“We must protect children by giving them and their caregivers the support that they need to maintain the public health measures that have been proven effective against the virus.
“While Covid vaccines are not approved for children in most countries, practicing physical distancing, washing hands often, wearing masks in public and avoiding crowded places can help keep children safe from the virus.
“Children and teens should get tested if they develop symptoms or if they suspect that they are sick to avoid the infection of others. “Adults also play a role in keeping children safe by themselves practicing these public health measures and getting vaccinated when it is their turn,” the PAHO boss added.