– phased reopening of schools essential to combat losses

On Monday, after eight months of closure, Guyana started the phased reopening of schools for classroom instruction for upper and post-secondary students, to mitigate the long-term impact the closure could have on these youth.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says children face more significant barriers in life if they lack the skills for lifelong learning. Those barriers could affect their earning potential and employment prospects. The reopening for those particular students is aimed at ensuring they are not hampered in any way.

“These are not normal times, and we are aware that we have to step out of the rigid applications of our various rules and policies at the Ministry of Education. We want to make sure that our children can be educated to the point where they can sit and write the Caribbean Examinations Council [CXC] exams and be able to be productive adults and gain for themselves,” Minister of Education, Hon. Priya Manickchand said at a virtual press conference on Monday.

The Minister cited data which indicated that the longer children remain out of schools, the greater the learning loss and the more likely they are to drop out. She said the data also showed it is more likely “that this cohort of students will be affected for the rest of their lives economically and be disadvantaged and we’re trying to prevent that as much as possible.”

The reopening of schools started with Grades 10-12 and Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) students, to allow them to fulfil the requirements of their Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) and other syllabi.

The Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) continues to publish advisories for students to prepare for the May/June 2021 CSEC and CAPE exams despite the pandemic.

Based on a timetable posted to the CXC website, the first day of CSEC exams for re-sit and private candidates is scheduled for January 18, 2021, while May/June CSEC/CAPE is still set for April 13, 2021.

The fact that they are not locally-administered examinations means that Guyana has little choice but to put the necessary facilities in place to ensure Guyanese students are not left behind.

Minister Manickchand announced the postponement of the 2021 National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) which is administered locally, and usually held annually during the March/April period. Additionally, in September, the Ministry cancelled the National Grade Two and National Grade Four Assessments for 2020.

Infrastructural development and COVID-19 sensitisation

While there are still risks in the reopening, students and teachers across schools have said they are happy to be back in the classroom.

The Ministry has installed infrastructure for handwashing, ventilation, potable water, electricity, a sickbay and working sanitation facilities at all schools that were reopened. This is in keeping with its vision to find the best means of delivering education while balancing it with the safety of the nation’s children.

Additionally, students and parents have been sensitised about the disease, and signage has been placed in obvious locations at schools.

Both teachers and students have also received care packages which include masks, hand sanitisers, face shields and immunity-boosting tonics and vitamins.

Concerning transportation, the Minister had lamented that more 50 per cent of the school buses in the system was non-functional. Nevertheless, the Ministry has committed to providing transportation based on its capacity.

A robust system is also in place with the Guyana United Minibus Union and Guyana Police Force to ensure vehicles transporting students follow all of the necessary guidelines.

The COVID stats

At the level of the Ministry of Health, Guyana is currently managing the pandemic well. Increased testing has put the Government in a better position to create feasible plans.

As at Tuesday, Guyana had recorded 4,530 positive cases since detecting the first case in March. The Ministry said 3,575 of those cases have since recovered while there have been 135 fatalities. The Ministry continues to manage active cases and put relevant measures in place to address spikes.

The COVID-19 orders published in the Extraordinary Gazette also guides Guyanese on the necessary measures to protect themselves and those around them, as the nation transitions into a ‘new normal.’