By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
FACE-to-face learning could resume in all schools across the country before year’s end, according to Education Minister Jeff Lloyd.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, the minister said health officials have indicated it is possible schools could safely reopen with in-person instructions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The development came as Mr Lloyd raised concerns over the fact that 30 percent of registered students are not regularly participating in virtual classes.
“The children want to be in school and we’re working now with the Ministry of Health in trying to find the way that we can safely – because safety is first – bring our children back to school as quickly as possible, observing all of the protocols whether it’s physical distancing, wearing masks and so on. We believe that that is something that is imminent,” Mr Lloyd told reporters at the Ministry of Education yesterday.
“We are meeting with the Ministry of Health officials. They’ve already indicated to us that it is possible.”
The minister said once those meetings have been completed, recommendations will subsequently be presented to the Competent Authority at which point a decision will be made.
The move, if approved, would be a welcome reprieve for many parents who have long voiced their frustrations with the virtual learning platform.
However, in order to safely resume face-to-face instruction, Mr Lloyd said officials have to work out all the logistics in keeping with the social distancing guidelines and other health protocols.
“We just need to work out the details as to how it will be done and we need to secure for ourselves, meaning the schools system – how many schools, what capability they have and what number of students they can accommodate at a particular time,” he continued.
In public schools where there is a large student enrolment, the minister suggested such institutions may have to adopt the hybrid model as previously announced which involves a mix of face-to-face and virtual classes.
“The bigger schools – and you know them – Sadie Curtis, the primary school, Doris Johnson and Anatol and CV Bethel, obviously they can’t accommodate all the students at one time so we will have to move to what may be the hybrid system as we discussed before. But we need to get our students as quickly as possible for the sake of all – students, parents, teachers and so – on back in school face-to-face learning.”
In March, the government mandated the closure of schools after the country recorded its first COVID-19 case.
The move resulted in many local institutions shifting to online classes, allowing for students to continue their studies at home for the remainder of the academic school year.
In a bid to safely reopen schools amid the pandemic, the minister announced in August that public schools will resume operations on September 21, featuring three instructional models: face-to-face, hybrid learning and online learning.
However, in response to rising COVID cases in the country, the re-opening date was pushed to October 5, with virtual learning set for the islands of New Providence, Abaco, and Eleuthera – where that method in still practised today.
Schools in Exuma have since been added to the list for virtual learning only due to a recent increase of COVID cases on the island.
Yesterday, the minister said officials estimate that some 30 percent of students registered are not regularly participating in the virtual learning platform, a situation he referred to as “concerning.”
He said: “Our estimation is that 70 percent are already in school on regular daily. That 30 percent bothers us and as (the director) indicated, it’s our responsibility to find the opportunity. No question about that but at the same time, the children have a responsibility. This is their education and the parents have a responsibility. This is their children’s education, so we all have to adopt a responsible attitude and mindset about education.”
Asked if the public could expect to see students physically returning back to school by early next year, Mr Lloyd said he could not give a definitive timeline.
He said: “No, no we’re talking imminent. I can’t put a day or a time on it, but it is that close. We’re now in discussions with the Ministry of Health, those will continue and we will make our recommendations to the Competent Authority and the decision will be made.”
However, Mr Lloyd was further pressed on the issue and asked about the possibility of in person learning before the end of 2020. To which he then replied, “ absolutely.”