Letters & Opinion

Re-opening of Schools in January 2021: A Special Welcome

By Sylvestre Phillip MBE

Officially, schools have been reopened in St. Lucia for the commencement of the second term in the academic year 2020-2021. However, students remained home while teachers prepared for the face to face encounter with students who should return to classrooms on Monday, January 11, 2021.

Students are returning to school amidst the rise in cases of the COVID-19 virus. Both Primary and Secondary students are required to report to their schools. Indeed, I’m terribly frightened of the virus getting to our schools. However, I welcome the return of students to the face to face classroom in St. Lucia.

I am a teacher by profession, and will remain so until I return to my maker. Therefore, I am in a position to inform you that the literature in education is replete with effective educational practices. But nothing can replace the classroom teacher. All professional teachers know that as a fact!

Robots have been doing a fairly good job in the industrial communities. But even in the robotic world there comes a time when there has to be a determination as to whether one is a robot or a human. That determination is not required in the teacher and student environment.

Now since the COVID-19 pandemic infiltrated our society, our education system has been severely affected. The system has been forced to embrace virtual teaching and learning and the work from home practice. Virtual teaching and learning has its place in education and could be very effective. But there are some pre-requisites that are needed.

Students and teachers are required to have computers; they are also required to know and have access to the learning platforms; they are also required to have the skills in gaining access to the platforms and to manoeuver successfully; teachers should have ability in making presentations using the virtual platforms; very importantly, both teachers and students should have access to Wi-Fi.

But we all know that scores of students in both the Primary and Secondary schools in St. Lucia do not have access to a computer and Wi-Fi from which to work, so that the teaching and learning is severely compromised. Even worse, that teachers may be unable to reach the students who are in need of help.

The question of access to computers and Wi-Fi by students and teachers are matters which need to be seriously addressed in our country. COVID-19 may not go away anytime soon and it may become necessary for students to work from home soon. We all pray that this would not be the case!

As it relates to virtual teaching and learning, I need to express some serious concerns. Firstly, the teachers concern must ensure that all students are in the virtual classroom. In the normal, face to face classroom, teachers mark an attendance register, so they know which students are in attendance and those who are absent. In the virtual classroom there are teachers who are not even aware that there are students who are not there.

You may ask how does the writer knows. Well, I am now a grandfather and have grandchildren attending secondary School in St. Lucia as well as overseas. And it may be weeks before the teacher realises that a couple of his or her students are not in the virtual classroom. And the implications for student learning would be very serious.

Another issue is that a long spell from the face to face classroom and having to remain home away from relatives and friends observing protocols, would create boredom for students. As a result, many students who are privileged to have access to computers, remain long hours at the computer well into the night and early morning and eat all that may be available to them. So many students have put on a few pounds just staying at home.

But my greatest worry at this time is the incompletion of syllabuses or syllabi and the examination which they would have to sit. Many parents have made some serious financial investments in the children’s education. And at the secondary level we are speaking about thousands of dollars in educational supplies; books and computers, school uniforms, school fees, bus fees, examination fees, lunches and snacks for break; and for those who can afford, extra lessons.

And, like any business, parents would expect returns on their investment. In this case, parents would expect students to come home with good CXC passes after five years at Secondary school.

But with the climate which has been created by the COVID-19 pandemic most teachers have not completed the required syllabus which would allow students to write CXC examination in comfort. And to be frank, I’m very worried!

Now I have been trained in Testing, Measurement and Evaluation at the degree level. And I know that an examination, at any school level, should not contain test items that students have not studied. We should not assume that students have covered certain concepts. We must be sure that they have covered the material.

Now with the form five syllabus, not having been completed either virtually or face to face, and some cases not even the form four syllabus had been completed, what would CXC present as a credible examination for our students?

We certainly do not want parents to storm the CXC ‘Whitehouse’, therefore some common ground would have to be reached between CXC and the Ministry of Education in St. Lucia.

I await with anxiety what would happen for CXC written examination for 2021? A level of consultation with stakeholders is absolutely necessary at this time.

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