Letters & Opinion

The Global Omicron Experience: Part 12 — Back to School in COVID Shoes!

Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

A million COVID years ago when I attended infant, primary and secondary schools in Castries, the one thing most of us liked was the annual warm feeling that came with going Back to School in Bata Shoes – brand-new pairs for every new school-year, shape and attractiveness also enhanced significantly if your pass grade was good-enough to make Mum and Pa proud.

Half-a-century later, youth, students and children seem to be virtually going ‘Back to School in COVID Shoes.’

The on-again, off-again decisions on whether or when to reopen schools ‘safely’ has understandably created a merry-go-round of concern and confusion in the minds of many, further exacerbated by the opposition of teachers and principals on the basis of alleged and acknowledged ‘lack of consultation…’

Worse, teachers claim to be contracting COVID at schools from students, while working parents simply wish the ‘hybrid’ extended-learning approach would work well enough to quell their fears and concerns.

And now the claims of silence over ‘small but growing’ claims of alleged abuse by guardians and caretakers at home.

But while students are being footballed between ‘opening-and-closing’ goalposts, based on feelings of parents, teachers and principals, education and health authorities, there’s absolutely no evidence of consultation with those most affected about the search for solutions.

I watched a recent report on four local students who won a UK-sponsored competition to describe explaining the COVID-19 experience to their children in a couple decades to come — and I was again refreshingly convinced I am right in always thinking that the young people we’re making related decisions for aren’t ‘COVIDiots’, but are in many ways thinking way-ahead of us, their vision and focus also way-ahead of every variant of interest or concern and every COVID wave.

They each gave mature and visionary explanations from their fertile imaginations of what they see life will be like two generations after COVID – if it ever goes away.

I also recall the Pandemic Diaries chronicled by Sir Arthur Lewis Community College (SALCC) students very early in 2021 when most of their parents were still very-much in-the-dark about what the coronavirus really is – and which (I also understand) will be featured in a new form on Facebook from 6-7pm tomorrow (January 23), the commemoration of the birthday of the island’s two Nobel Prizewinners.

Both inspire(d) me.

Then, I look how teachers elsewhere (in Our Caribbean) relate and react to the challenges of COVID at school and their positions differ according to the leadership of their respective professional organizations.,

So that, instead of a united position by the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) on whether teachers should vaccinate or not, teachers are left (in many cases) to the advice of union leaders who’re either anti-vaccination or at partisan variance with the national political directorate.

For example, 70% of teachers in Guyana are registered as vaccinated, but there’s no indication of the level of vaccination among Saint Lucian counterparts.

As such, teachers’ positions on whether and when schools should reopen are based on unsupported arguments like ‘many teachers being affected with COVID by students’ and the resultant need to protect the former from the latter (and apparently not even vice versa).

It would have been expected (back when we went back to school in Bata shoes) that teachers, the ‘brightest’ people in the society, would have been in the lead today in teaching the rest of the nation about the ins-and-outs, do’s and don’ts of COVID, like they did way-back-when to encourage our parents to vaccinate for Bilharzia and Yellow.

Indeed, back then vaccinations were mandatory, as no infants were allowed into nursery school without a ‘vaccination paper’ (certificate).

But this is the COVID Age in a world driven by information available to youth, students and children 24/7 and at their fingertips; and I see every day how the majority of the minority with appropriate devices access the latest information faster than us parents and teachers – about how other countries are treating issues like reopening of school and vaccination of children.

They see and hear precise reasons why schools open, close and reopen everywhere else, while receiving an unlabeled cocktail of reasons here, according to who’s asked.

While Facebook and like platforms are nowhere being reflective of the majority of the population, they do however appeal to the youth and children, who have easier and quicker access to related information than teachers and parents, but are yet to be counted as worthy of consultation on yet another matter directly affecting them, their health and social wealth, today and tomorrow.

Like with Voting Right where young people and children who can read-and-write are still considered nobody until and unless they turn 18 – and register – they are similarly dissed and given no say on how-best to go to school SAFELY.

So, just like I remember how Education Ministry ‘IT specialists’ cracked their brains to figure-out how to come-up with security codes to prevent ‘misuse’ of the first sets of free laptops for schools, only for every safety code to be laughingly broken by the superior-level tech-savvy students, we’re again wracking and wrecking our brains to figure-out how best to keep our ‘children’ SAFE at school, without saying safe from what – from COVID alone or from COVID & Co.

And we still keep asking why today’s out-of-school youth are simply not interested in belated fancy talk about ‘non-violent conflict resolution’ in a culture where violence is the order of the day and the number of notches on a Badman’s gun commands more role-model ‘Due Respect’ than the countless number of lives saved each time one walks or runs away (even if to live to fight another day…)

In the circumstances — in Century 21 — we’re sending the nation’s future back to school in COVID schools, willingly masking the repeatedly-proven dangers of excluding youth, students and children from discussions and consultations on plans for their future.

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