Education Minister Defends Schools’ Reopening

Minister for Education Shawn Edward has defended his ministry’s decision to reopen schools after coming under fire from members of the public and the Saint Lucia Teachers Union (SLTU), the former believing that the COVID-19 situation on island was not encouraging for a reopening.

Education Minister Shawn Edward
Education Minister Shawn Edward

Edward, who failed to consult the Union on the matter, which the Union took personally, said the decision to revert to face-to-face learning is undoubtedly the best one, despite the circumstances surrounding the reopening.

He noted that the decision was a “tough one”, however, explained that the Ministry is operating with students’ best interests in mind.

“These are very challenging times for us but we have to summon the courage to make the tough decisions and I need to place on record that for the Ministry of Education that I lead and by extension the government that I’m a part of, priority number one for us is the health and safety of our children, teachers, principals and the ancillary staff we have at the various schools,” Edward said at a press conference on Monday.

According to Edward, the Ministry of Education considered all factors before making its decision, and after much consultation with the Ministry of Health, has decided to keep schools open, a decision, it will quickly change, if the COVID-19 situation in Saint Lucia worsens.

“The situation with COVID-19 is a very dynamic one and the situation can change in a space of a few hours. If at all the situation in country worsens, we will have absolutely no hesitation to close schools. But we are saying given the data that is before us, given the deliberations we have had with the Ministry of Health, we believe that it is still the best decision to keep the children in school for the time being,” Edward stated, adding that the Ministry has been engaging in discussion with various stakeholders including the SLTU which it met on Friday last week.

Although a number of students and teachers have been affected by COVID-19, Edward does not believe that schools should close altogether and said that “we do not believe that has happened on a scale to close down the entire school system which would cause us to have approximately 28,000 children at home for the time being.”

But Valerie St-Helen Henry, President of the National Principals Association, believes the Ministry should rethink its decision as schools are now “suffering”.

Valerie St. Helen Henry
Valerie St. Helen Henry

“At the beginning of the term when the announcement was made the National Principals Association felt at the time the cases were low—and we know that face-to-face instruction is the best way for our students. We felt that it was a good thing that we returned, bearing in mind that we need to monitor the situation because we are in an unstable environment right now (and) the situation is fluid,” she said in a recent interview.

St-Helen Henry added that there are “situations that exist across the school system and so I think it’s necessary that the right decision be made that schools should be closed and that we should go online for a short period of time.”

According to her, the current situation at schools is affecting teachers and principals who are really having a tough time managing when teachers are absent. She reiterated that the situation is a critical one which needs an urgent decision and believes a return to online instructions is undoubtedly the better option.

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