Letters & Opinion

Reopening of Schools in St. Lucia: Overcoming some major challenges

By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E.

IN a previous article I welcomed the re-opening of schools in St. Lucia in January,2021. In that article I raised some fundamental issues to support the reopening. However, I knew that there were some major challenges to overcome.

In that article I highlighted some of those challenges: Access to computers by teachers and students; the long absence of students from the face to face classrooms; skills required by teachers and students within the virtual classroom; the non-attendance of students in the virtual classroom; the unavailability of Wi Fi to many students and teachers to facilitate the virtual teaching and learning; and, very importantly the incomplete syllabi of the form five students who were close to writing the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate Examination which is written only after students have completed a two-year programme of studies..

But there are some things that I never mentioned because they ‘go without saying’ in educational administration and management, particularly in this Era of COVID-!9 infestation in St. Lucia.

The first matter I never discussed was effective communication with stake-holders in education. And when I refer to stake-holders, I am really speaking about teachers, teachers representatives, parents, students themselves and members of the public. They all have a stake in what’s happening in education.

Very early, I was hearing complaints from the Early Childhood Educators that they were not being consulted. I found it strange since the hierarchy of the Ministry of Education know the importance and value of consultation in education.

Not just they, but also the St. Lucia Teachers’ Union was vehement in its call for consultation with the organization on the need for deep cleaning of schools in St. Lucia.

The National Youth Council was calling for closure of schools amidst the rise or spike in the COVID-19 virus.

And then came the St. Lucia Labour Party in its very loud call for the closure of schools for one month due to the rise in the numbers of persons affected with the virus.

As an educator and specifically a former principal, I know and understand that some decisions regarding schools were difficult to make. However, calling people together for consultation is as easy as munching on a piece of cheese cake. Even persons without teeth find it so easy!

It would have “spoken loudly” for the Ministry of Education if a joint meeting between itself, the Ministry of Health and all the stake-holders or interest groups had been held and an agreement reached on the eventual closure of schools. Sometimes we have to “swallow our pride” and deal with important matters head-on.

But it seems to me, from my very long observation, that government leaders find it difficult to call people together, especially if they do not agree with some issues or policies of the government.

Indeed, a good manager would know, if they have studied group dynamics, that everybody in a group, and everybody belongs to a group, from family upwards, will not always agree with the leader. However, it does not mean that they should be left out of the processes!

When you speak to some people they will tell you that government has money. But for me, as I follow the economic activities of our country, it suggest that government cash flow may be facing some problems. And I’m being frank here!

But there are some matters regarding the reopening of schools that the Ministry of Education must do, or should have arranged for the reopening of schools in St. Lucia. The SLTU should not have had to beg them literally to do that.

The following are things that are being done in one of the states in the United States of America where several of my grandchildren attend, at various levels:

Administrators, all members of professional and ancillary staff have to wear a mask. And they are to keep it on at all times except for special breaks. They also remove it at lunchtime.

Only two students sit at a table at opposite sides during lunch.

The classroom setup is such that the desks are 6 feet apart, and presently only ten students are in a classroom. And that had worked out pretty well my source told me.

All members of the school community are distancing themselves and constantly, washing their hands and also sanitizing, and all materials are provided by the school.

But listen to this, every child is provided with a laptop by the school. And there is no need to say that the school has Wi Fi and  that there are persons with the required skills to assist teachers and students with all areas relating to the computer generally and instruction specifically.

My source did not forget to tell me that the schools are in constant contact with health organizations in the state. So that the schools have easy access to health care if that becomes necessary. I was also told that the protocols were agreed upon by the management, staff, parents and students of the schools. And things are working perfectly well. And the schools are ready to say good-bye to the virus never to see it again. The state I am referring to has one of the lowest cases of COVID-19.

Now, to be honest, I can’t compare schools in the United States with those in St. Lucia as it relates to facilities and school support. In New York, for example, the profits raised by the New York National Lotteries, by law, goes to education in the State of New York. I lived there for some time and even played the lotteries while I was there.

But there are targeted issues that the Ministry of Education can and should deal with by way of supporting schools and ensuring our teachers and students are safe.

Indeed, I can’t put all the blame for the spread of COVID-19 on the Ministries of Health and Education. Our people are stubborn! They are not rigid with the adherence to the protocols in place to protect themselves. We can’t doubt that!

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