By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
THE Ministry of Education still intends to reopen public schools on September 21 with virtual education first and then move on to “blended learning” to be a combination of virtual and face-to-face classrooms, according to Education Minister Jeff Lloyd.
Mr Lloyd made the announcement as he spoke to the media before going into a Cabinet meeting yesterday. He said the “blended learning” phase will start on October 5.
Challenged as to whether or not this was a set plan, he said, “It is unfair to say there is no set plan. It has been announced in the House of Assembly that school is going to begin on the Monday, September 21, 2020 and we will begin virtually with online learning. We have said that over and over and over again.
“Now the only thing that can change or will change is if the competent authority makes another order (emergency order) that is going to affect that. This is as clear as I can be. School will open on the 21st of September, 2020 at the regular hours online. It is our intention, that after about three weeks, we are going to move into what we consider, blended learning, or some sort of consolidation with online and face-to-face and our anticipation for that is October 5.”
Mr Lloyd stressed that these dates were given in the House of Assembly followed by statements to that effect that were sent out. He said he thought it was clear.
“I don’t see why there is any confusion or why there should be any confusion. Again, we begin school on September 21, 2020, virtually and then we will move into some kind of blended environment which would be around October 5.”
Moving on from the dates, Mr Lloyd said teachers, who are recent graduates of the University of The Bahamas, are currently being processed into the system. He said this process normally takes a few weeks.
He also addressed the sore subject of the national exams, which had started after a delay earlier this year only to be postponed again after some tests had been taken as COVID-19 cases increased. He said a new date for the exams has not yet been set.
“A question that you may want to ask is if we postponed the national exams so will those exams resume,” he said. “We are not able at this time to say so. We are considering that because, as you know this lockdown ends, according to the prime minister, on the 18th August - that is two weeks. And, he also said that it is likely, that if conditions require, it will probably be extended.
“So we will have to wait and see if we will be able to resume those national exams and if we do what form that will take - if we will do all exams or whether we will suspend the BJCs and have it next year or only do the BGCSEs. We are obviously being guided by the health authorities, as this government is, and we will make a decision accordingly.”
Due to the pandemic and associated economic fall out, it is expected parents may pull some students out of private school and enroll them in public institutions. Mr Lloyd said the public sector can accommodate some of these students.
“I don’t have the data in terms of what numbers are registering for school at this time,” Mr Lloyd said. “I guess you can deduce that there will be some movement from the private sector to the public sector, but yes, online registration for school is underway and yes the government is able to accommodate some of those private students.
“Of course we are not able to accommodate if 20,000, which is the number of private school students, decide they want to come in the government sector. What we have been able to determine at this time, is that a number of students in the private sector are continuing to remain in the private sector and that schools are working with parents who may find themselves financially disaffected, in order to meet the requirements of tuition.”
The education minister also shared some good news for working parents who are having a challenge with the virtual learning aspect of the upcoming school year. He said those children will be accommodated as well.
“That is why the government has stepped in for instance to this new environment in September,” he explained. “We are preparing care centres for those parents who might be out into the work world during the time when their children would be in a virtual environment. The children will be in those care centres.”
Minister Lloyd said it is a pity that COVID had to awaken some parents as to their responsibility whereas their children’s education is concerned. He said COVID is a blessing in disguise as many “wonderful lessons” are being taught by COVID.