In a recent Facebook post, former Minister of Education and Culture, Myron V Walwyn shared his thoughts on COVID-19 and the reopening of schools in the BVI. He wrote:
Managing the issues caused by Covid-19 is not easy for any country. I do however believe that while following all the safety precautions advanced by the experts, each country has to make decisions that affect its population based on the evidence and information that exist within that particular country. What might be necessary in the US, the UK or even in certain parts of the Caribbean might not be necessary here in the BVI because the magnitude of the effects might be different. Each country will have its own nuances.
We heard of one new case of Covid 19 which from the information provided, the situation is contained and the necessary precautions are in place to keep it that way.
It begs the question as to why is it necessary to keep schools in the BVI closed until October 31st. While online learning will provide some assistance, it is woefully inadequate for the current needs of most of our students from K-12. A blended approach of traditional instructions supplemented by the online contact will better serve our students.
A shift system (similar to what was done after Irma) can be implemented to give students the support that they need while ensuring that the social distancing protocols and rules are strictly followed. We must of course provide extensive training to the education ministry personnel to ensure proper supervision of the schools to prevent the spread of Covid among the students and the faculty. It can be done.
Here are just a few of my concerns with an entirely online learning approach:
1. Students most often do not give full attention, if any, to the online lessons. They are very often distracted by other things that they find more entertaining.
2. A significant portion of the work given to students is done by parents and other family members and not by the students. This doesn’t happen in every household but it happens in many.
3. Special needs students and students with other learning difficulties will be at a severe disadvantage. These students need to be reached by teachers who are trained to handle their individual circumstances. This service most likely is not available at home.
4. The internet service is not reliable and we know it. Teachers I’m sure will now be asked to use their personal internet to deliver classes. Some may not have a problem with this but others may.
5. Accessibility to computer devices particularly by families who cannot afford to provide them to their children may be an issue for some.
6. Parents must also go to work to make a living and contribute to the development of the country. In addition to providing an education for our children, school provides a place of safe keeping for children while their parents are at work.
7. This current Covid-19 situation should be a teachable moment for our young people. The protocols that will be put in place in the school environment will make them understand the seriousness of this disease and the importance of adhering to the rules and protocols that were put in place for our protection. Currently, many of our students who are left at home are not adhering to social distancing, are not wearing mask or sanitizing the way they should.
8. What will become of students who have next to no family support mechanism?
I believe that the private institutions should be allowed to operate. They should of course follow the protocols and should be monitored in the same manner as the public institutions. The private schools usually have smaller numbers and can better manage the social distancing protocols than the public schools which have larger numbers.
This is in no way a criticism of the work being done by the government and I wish for it not to be viewed in that light. I just think that more thought should be given to this and other policy positions being taken.