Letters & Opinion

Students and the Continuing COVID Conundrum

By Earl Bousquet
Image of young kids in a classroom

THE worsening situation facing students as a result of the continuing COVID Conundrum has been itemized by the Saint Lucia National Students Council (SLNSC), which last Friday noted, in a press statement, that apart from the school year starting late and despite the several interruptions since the pandemic closed all schools for almost six months, the initial week-long and fortnight closures announced last weekend will also more seriously affect those students with parents having difficulty making the adjustment to online learning.

The cumulative COVID effects on teachers’ teaching and students’ learning ranges from the sudden forced return to computerization of education and dependence on online teaching that had become a welcome norm during the previous administration but became an early victim of regime change in 2016, to parents being told since then that Caribbean children (somehow) learn better by reading from traditional textbooks than watching computer screens.

Tens of thousands of computers sourced abroad and distributed free from China, Taiwan and Venezuela (among others) and the emerging broad popular acceptance of computerization of classrooms and digitization of teaching curtailed for four years, COVID-19 in 2020 forced the government to backtrack on certain long-held positions, from the almost-overnight opening of the OKEU Hospital to a necessary return to digital teaching and learning at an even wider and deeper level – At and From Home.

While the government sourced limited numbers of devices as welcome contributions from local service providers like FLOW, parents, teachers and students again had to scramble to arm themselves with the tools of teaching and learning online.

The new hybrid (home and classroom) system adopted in September was delayed by the inadequate physical conditions of some schools, the inability of students whose parents could not afford required IT devices – and now, just six weeks into the new school year after having already lost the previous six months, COVID-19 struck the biggest secondary school in Castries, causing the necessary closures for community and national contact tracing.

But while the various decision-makers are arguing over whether online education is better than traditional classroom methods and decisions are taken to subject students (and parents) to both, little has been done to ascertain how the students feel.

As is nearly always the case with Caribbean societal responses to problems affecting young people, they remain the guinea pigs for experimentation in this latest search for workable solutions to a lingering problem almost exclusively affecting them, that simply rotates through COVID’s revolving door.

The SLNSC has offered its online platforms to students to voice their views on how the COVID Conundrum is affecting them.

It may be wise to also now consider how best to farm and harvest responses on how they feel about the challenges and opportunities brought by COVID-19, in the continuing search for the best solutions to ensure the nation’s education system is not perennially retarded by what can very well become the world’s most enduring pandemic.

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