By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
EDUCATION Minister Jeff Lloyd said officials have not yet made a decision as to how schools will reopen in September due to uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
His comments come as the country is experiencing another resurgence of cases and an increase in hospitalisations.
Mr Lloyd said while it’s too early to tell which instruction model will be used for the upcoming fall semester, Bahamians can be assured schools will reopen in September.
He also said whichever model the ministry chooses will not come without the approval of health officials.
“The Ministry of Education is in the most aggressive and advanced discussions as we speak and will continue to prepare for any eventuality come September and it is the full intention that school resumes in some form in September 2021,” Mr Lloyd said when contacted by this newspaper.
“Do not forget we have three modalities of which we can operate. Number one, pure virtual (classes). Number two, pure face-to-face and number three, some combination of both and we are right now looking at exactly what happens given certain circumstances that may present at that time.
“And you always remember me saying, there will be no decision that is not approved by, guided by, underpinned by the guidance, the direction and the recommendations of the health officials of the commonwealth of The Bahamas.”
In any event, Mr Lloyd insisted officials will be prepared when schools reopen.
Schools across the country closed in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic but were reopened after the summer break last October.
However, schools in New Providence, Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma were only teaching virtually until given the go-ahead to begin phased face-to-face learning under a hybrid model in February.
In May, officials announced all public schools would return to virtual learning once again after cases started to climb.
Yesterday, Mr Lloyd estimated some 20 to 40 percent of public students suffered significant learning loss due to circumstances brought on by the pandemic.
He said the problem is a worldwide one and added local officials are working aggressively to address it.
“I’ve been in discussions, most advanced discussions for the past couple of weeks with our education officials as to how we’re going to address that,” Mr Lloyd said.
“One such attempt is what is now underway called the summer enhancement programme which we expect will have a significant impact on the improvement of those students who would’ve gone through that unfortunate situation in the past year and a half.
“But there are many others who because of resources was not able to participate in the summer enhancement programme and even those who are participating will continue to need enhancement opportunities when school resumes if not before so we have been having widespread conversations with all of our stakeholders and we intend to expand our pool of stakeholders to what I think should be a national conversation with the country about the state of education.
“I am happy with what we’re doing and what we have done but much more is required and it must be on a sustained basis over at the very least, the next semester if not the next year.”
As it stands, the Pfizer vaccine is currently the only vaccine approved for emergency use in children aged 12 and older.
The Bahamas is expecting its first doses of the Pfizer vaccine next month, which will include 57,330 doses in the first phase.
Last week, Health Minister Renward Wells told reporters officials will consider setting a portion of the Pfizer vaccines aside specifically for young children.
Mr Lloyd said the ministry would welcome the move, stressing that vaccinations are the only way out of the pandemic.
“The Ministry of Education, like every other facet of Bahamian life, is deeply concerned about the situation in our country,” Mr Lloyd said yesterday. “Like every announcement that the government ever makes, especially get vaccinated, the universe is begging its citizens to get vaccinated. The United States of America, Canada, Brazil and everywhere else. This is your ticket to health, freedom.
“…We want to be past this pandemic,” he continued. “We want to go back to whatever you consider normal to be and everyone desires that and we have a ticket to get there. The train is ready to roll and it’s called vaccinations.”