Letters & Opinion

The Phased Re-opening of Schools: A Mighty ‘Leap of Faith’

Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E
By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E

After being closed for several months, school was partially reopened on 28th October for kindergarten and grade six at the Primary level and forms 4 and 5 at the Secondary level. However, the entire school community in St. Lucia is expected to return to school on November 8, 2021.

But what has struck me very forcefully is the level of consultation which took place before and during the reopening of schools. Something I have never seen before in St. Lucia.

Admittedly, the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging on despite a decline in the infection rate. Having regard for the need to co-exist with the virus, government made it a point to consult the national teams in St. Lucia responsible for the management of the pandemic prior to the re-opening. The Ministry of Health and the national management team now headed by Mr. Cletus Springer, the National Principals Association and the St. Lucia Teachers’ Union among others.

Indeed, what will create a lot of pleasant memories for me is the fact that on the partial re-opening on Monday, 28th October, the Minister of Education, Hon. Shawn Edward, went into the classrooms to speak with students, even the kindergarten students to gain some insights into how they felt about the reopening of school. For me as an educator, more particularly a classroom teacher, I was very pleased with that action.

In education, we often speak about consultation with stakeholders but often neglect to consult students who are key stakeholders in the process of education.

I am not surprised that the Minister of Education received an overwhelming positive response from the students in schools where he visited.

All public schools are expected to reopen in St. Lucia. On Monday, 8th November 2021.No doubt, most students, parents, teachers and the public would be quite happy about this.

Now because of the COVID-19 protocols which was introduced because of the pandemic, schools had to be creative in providing instruction to their students who were distributed in various places. The Distributed Learning model was widely used as a result.

But it must be understood that no model could adequately replace the classroom teacher. Indeed, Face to face instruction is a component of the Distributed Learning Model that I have explained in a previous article.

Knowledge is not enough if we do not know how to pass it on to our pupils. In that regard the classroom teacher plays a important role in the dispensing of instruction.

A good teacher is adaptable. He or she has to adapt various classroom situations learning strategies.

For example, a class would constitute children of varying abilities. There are students who are slow in their learning, referred to as slow learners. There are children who will quickly absorb or assimilate the instruction or knowledge or skill. These are referred to as the exceptional learner. These learners are often ahead of the rest of the class.

The classroom teacher in the face-to-face environment would be able to deal with those students in a way which facilitate effective learning.

Let us take the slow learners. Those students would constantly need the help of the teacher. The teacher would now have to scaffold for these students; a term used in education. Now those of us in building construction or have seen how a scaffold is used in building construction would notice that the construction worker uses the scaffold to get to reach the top of the building where he or she would ordinarily be unable to reach. In the same way the teacher would have to employ various strategies referred to as scaffolds to help the student understand the concept and get to the next stage or to improve in performance.

Similarly, the teacher must cater for the exceptional learners in a way that would not retard their progress. That is the teacher also must organise the instruction or employ strategies which would allow the exceptional learners or students to make steady progress. Both sets of students would be able to co-exist in the face-to-face classroom and raise performance.

Indeed, as you may have realised, the classroom teacher plays an important role as a facilitator of the learning process or processes. There are several other management issues that the classroom teacher has to deal with which space does not allow me to articulate or explain in this article.

Now there are many other important reasons why children should be accommodated in school. A popular reason is security. We know that many students are abused physically, sexually and verbally when left in the charge of persons other than parents or official guardians. And, without any doubt, pupils or children would be safer in school.

My dear reader you may not know the negative effects that mental and physical abuse have on a learner. It is devastating for a learner and the teacher herself or himself who are the facilitators of learning.

Now another is availability of food. Students must be properly fed to facilitate effective learning. Teaching a child who is hungry is like “walking to the moon”. In the past many children went to school with very little or nothing to eat from home and they learned. Very often they are shy to tell the teacher they did not have anything to eat. And they survived the system. But these are rear cases

The school feeding programme provides the opportunity for students who are in need to get food and help in learning. I know that the Minister of Education would ensure that the school feeding programme is continued and fortified.

In conclusion, I wish to inform you that I will write a series of articles entitled: ‘The Open School’. The articles would be published bi-weekly alongside other articles which I wish to publish.

So look out for: The Open School next week, Saturday 13th November, 2021.

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