By Isanella Patoir
Approximately 21,000 students in grades 10, 11 and 12 along with practical and technical vocational students will be returning to school from November 09, Education Minister Priya Manickchand announced on Saturday.
“Schools shall reopen for face to face engagement for the cohort of students in grades 10, 11 and 12 and for all practical instruction centres and technical vocational educational centres from the 9th day of November 2020,” Manickchand told reporters at a press conference held at the National Center for Educational Resource Development (NCERD).
The decision to reopen schools was based on studies and best practices from across the world followed by extensive discussions between parents, teachers, the Ministry of Health, the Guyana Teacher’s Union (GTU), the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) and other stakeholders, the Education Minister said.
Teachers and students who will be returning to schools will not be required to do a COVID-19 test, however, if any student or teacher becomes infected, Minister Manickchand assured that all guidelines will be followed.
“The protocol as advised by the Ministry of Health is not to test everyone at this stage in the country so no there is no immediate plans for the testing of teachers and students before they return to school.”
It was highlighted that the school term will be adjusted and the school week may also be extended.
Students and teachers will attend school on a rotation schedule based on special timetables set by the schools in accordance with the gazette COVID-19 orders.
Schools with dormitories will also be reopened on November 09 with special arrangements.
“For the dorms, we have special arrangements, we are working very closely with the Ministry of Health to make sure the students that come back in the dorms are COVID-19 free as well as remains so during the time,” the Minister said.
During recent meetings with teachers, parents and students, it was also highlighted that a large number of students are worried about being adequately prepared for the CSEC and CAPE 2021 examinations.
“So worried are students that we have received alarming numbers of requests from students to repeat the year as they feel they will lose if we continue to stay out of school, so worried were teachers that many have returned to the classroom for face to face teaching at all levels in all parts of Guyana,” the Education Minister explained.
However, while CXC has not yet determined when the exams will be held and what format will be used, a recent advertisement by CXC was published for students to register for exams in May/June 2021.
In further defending the Ministry’s decision to reopen schools even as COVID-19 cases continue to rise rapidly in Guyana, Minister Manickchand said the closure of schools since March, if continued, can lead to more school dropouts and other issues.
“We learnt from studies internationally which had indicated a strong likelihood of learning loss and a high possibility of premature school leaving and that the longer students stay out of school the most likely these will be the consequences,” the Minister stated.
The Ministry will be providing face masks, shields, sanitizing agents, vitamins and care packages to each teacher and student who will be returning to the classroom.
Schools, for weeks now, have been preparing for the eventual opening with the installation of sinks, proper ventilation and washroom facilities; thermometers will also be provided to all schools, students will also be administered a diagnostic wellness kit and the Ministry also pledged any other support where necessary.
Teachers from other grades are also expected to return to school and support the CSEC and CAPE teachers on a needs basis.
“We intend to ensure we lose not one single child to this school closure. Regular temperature checks, frequent cleaning of schools and adequate janitorial supplies, adequate cleaning staff, ongoing education best practices for COVID-19 safety will be carried out,” Manickchand said.
She further explained that teachers are also expected to engage the other students who will not return to school and the situation will be continually assessed by the Ministry to ensure the country does not lose educationally.
For those teachers who have younger children at home, the Ministry has committed to providing accommodation and supervision.
Additionally, the Chief Education Officer, Dr Marcel Hutson and team on Friday met with representatives of the Guyana Police Force Traffic Department, the Minibus Union and the Department of Consumer Affairs to discuss the safety and security of students who will be using public transportation.
Dr Hutson explained traffic officers will be stationed at bus parks to monitor the situation and was also given the authority to determine if a minibus is safe to transport students.