Many teachers, students turn up for face-to-face classes; Health Minister urges vaccination

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There have been some calls for a pause on the return to face-to-face classes because of the increase in the number of people infected with COVID-19. On Monday, however, many students and teachers turned up for classes as per normal.

According to information provided by the Ministry of Education on Monday afternoon, 74 per cent of teachers in schools were actively teaching despite calls to stay away from classes by observing an ‘Isolation Day’.

This figure, the ministry stated, represented some 84 per cent of schools for which the ministry has received data up to Monday afternoon.

At the St. Joseph High School, one of the schools that remained in session, Headmaster Nathram Raghubansi told the News Room that face-to-face classes are better for students.

“… we cover more content and we get to work with the syllabus,” Raghubansi explained during an interview with the News Room on Monday.

He, however, acknowledged concerns about the surge in COVID-19 cases, attributed to the suspected presence of the Omicron variant. Resultantly, he said that not all of his students have returned for face-to-face classes.

A student washing her hand as se entered the St. Joseph High School compound (Photo: Ministry of Education/ January 10, 2022)

Still, the headmaster has assured parents and students alike that the school has been working to ensure that all safety protocols are adhered to.

Last Wednesday, President Dr. Irfaan Ali emphasised that schools cannot be kept closed- noting that there are significant learning losses associated with school closures.

“All the data so far and most countries, almost all the countries are saying we cannot close the schools, we cannot close the education system,” the Head-of-State said during an emergency press conference held recently.

That crucial need has been well- ventilated over the past few months. A recent report from the World Bank noted that student engagement has been low in Guyana, leading to concerns of learning losses.

The report stated that these learning losses and dropout rates have “grave implications” for the accumulation of human capital in countries.

And previously, Representative of the World Bank Ricardo Habalian estimated that school children in Guyana could lose about one year of learning because of the closure of schools for face-to-face classes prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This, Habalian said, could lead to significant challenges for the children in the future.

Students of the West Demerara Secondary School being engaged in face to face classes (Photo: Ministry of Education/ January 10, 2022)

And so, it has been one week since schools have been reopened. Many of the older students – those in secondary schools except Form One (Grade Seven) students and pupils in Grade Six- are expected to attend face-to- face classes each day.

The other children will be attending classes on a rotational basis, or as their school’s spacing permits. This is according to guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education.

Even so, however, there are some instances where face-to-face classes have been paused. At the Bishop’s High School for example, face-to-face classes have been paused because some teachers and students tested positive for COVID-19.

Minister of Health Dr. Frank Anthony also acknowledges the omicron surge but says that it is more important for teachers and eligible students to get vaccinated.

“.. I think there is still a number of teachers who are still unvaccinated so if we want to have a very safe school environment then I think we should encourage those teachers to get vaccinated because without being infected, they are putting themselves at risk,” he said during his COVID-19 update on Monday.

He also emphasised that Pfizer vaccines have been made available for children aged 12 to 17 years old, but only about 40 per cent of these teenagers have gotten vaccinated.

With vaccination, he believes that face-to- face classes will be much safer.

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