Letters & Opinion

The COVID-19 Crisis in Education: No Exception in Saint Lucia

By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E.

THERE is a COVID-19 crisis in Education throughout the world today. And St. Lucia is no exception. I have been following the local experience or situation very closely and want to take the opportunity to commend the Ministries of Education and Health for what they have been able to achieve in our system thus far.

Indeed, with proper, timely and effective consultation or communication with stakeholders the atmosphere could have been a lot less ‘charged.’

Prior to COVID-19, our students were taught in classrooms, in school with teachers interacting with them in person or what we often refer to nowadays as face-to-face. But with the intrusion of the virus, that method of teaching and learning has now been changed to part face-to-face and part virtual, or completely virtual.

Now virtual teaching and learning has its place in education. In times of crisis as we are experiencing now, students could be taught by beaming or transmitting lessons or instruction from the teachers to their homes by way of electronic transfer.

Indeed, what I have been emphasizing over the last few weeks is that the equipment to conduct virtual teaching and learning must be available to the learners as well as the teachers to enable the process to be effective.

To be honest, I do not want to play the blame game at this time. What I prefer to do is to propose a system that will work for our teachers and students which will bring about a formidable education system in this COVID-19 era.

We must understand clearly that COVID-19 will not go away soon. What we are hearing now is that the virus is reproducing by way of mutations.

In science, more than five decades ago I learnt of the vegetative reproduction of plants and the mutation of cells. Well, the COVID-19 virus has brought these concepts to life today.

So it’s not going anywhere soon! There must now be a co-existence. We are very fortunate that vaccinations have now been found to provide a level of protection of life. And St. Lucia is now making arrangements for bringing in at least one of the vaccines. I am happy that the government has articulated a plan to ensure that the populace is vaccinated to restore some normalcy to life. I’m looking forward to seeing that!

Now coming back to the classroom, it is my desire to see every school child with a computer and access to Wi-Fi. I have been hearing of electronic books being distributed in schools for use by students. I have not been able to determine the effectiveness of those e-books in learning. What I would want to know is that both teachers and students could make effective use of those e-books and that students could carry out independent learning as the teachers would not be around twenty-four hours of the day.

I wish to draw attention to the complaints I have heard about the virtual teaching and learning from students. In fact, I have heard the complaints in my own home with two of my grandchildren attending a top Secondary school on the island. I do not want to blame the teachers entirely. Whereas they may be equipped with the lesson content, they may not be equipped with the pedagogy to teach the content. By that I mean they may know the subject very well but imparting the knowledge especially in this crisis may pose some difficulty.

I attended the then Teachers Training College about 45 years ago. At that time it was compulsory to do what was referred to as micro-teaching. Meaning that the teacher had to prepare a ten- minute lesson with the use of transparencies and a projector to teach a lesson. Afterwards the teacher would get feedback from his or her colleague teachers on that ten- minute lesson. And there was much to be learnt. The training was rigid!

Then there were three spells of teaching practice for the level that one was being trained. And several tutors came to observe your teaching. They really came to find out whether the teacher was putting the book learning into practise.

But many of our teachers get into the classrooms with mere academic qualifications. And a teacher could possess a PhD in a discipline and with little or no pedagogy or “How to”. In the teaching and learning environment, this could be problematic.

I am sure that we fully appreciate and understand that our students, particularly secondary school students preparing to write the Caribbean Examinations, have lost an incredible amount of instructional time. Many have not been able to utilize the school laboratories to complete their School Based Assessment Projects. Many teachers have not been able to complete the required syllabus to allow them to succeed at those examinations.

Indeed, many parents are concerned about this situation. Several months ago, the Minister of Education did articulate the problem and shared her concern. However, nothing has been said by CXC nor further information from the Ministry of Education has been provided. To this end, I intend to write to the Minister of Education on the matter.

This brings me to an especially important issue which I have discussed over this medium on several occasions. And that is the Caribbean Exit Assessment.

The Grade 6 students of Primary Schools have also lost a lot of instructional time due to the COVID-19 situation. Had St. Lucia been following the Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment programme, which was introduced in 2012, our Primary School students would have been far better off.  By that I mean the programme would have allowed for school or teacher- based testing and completion and documentation of SBAs, which would allow for a better assessment of the students even though they had lost some time because of COVID-19. The students would have been assessed as they went along so that the CXC component of the assessment would not have posed so much of a problem.

It is my hope that these matters would be resolved amicably with stakeholders and to prevent any unsavoury situation for our education system in St. Lucia.

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