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…children 12 years and older attending expected to be vaccinated
By Lisa Hamilton
The public was made aware of the plans in place for each level of schooling for children in Guyana as the planned reopening to face-to-face learning at schools approaches on September 6, 2021.
These plans were revealed on Friday during a press conference hosted by the Ministry of Education. In opening remarks, Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand said when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, the Government had no option but to close schools.
However, over a year later, she said that Guyana is now in a better place to reopen schools and has also received the Pfizer vaccine which can be administered to children 12 years and over.
Manickchand said that the reopening of schools may vary for schools and grade levels and while all schools will reopen on September 6, secondary schools will reopen as the vaccine rolls out to allow for students to be vaccinated.
“[The Ministry of Health is] uncomfortable with just opening the secondary schools’ doors without rolling this vaccination out, which is why our mandate at Education is not to just open up secondary schools, it is to open according to the vaccination plan, how that’s rolled out. I think that we can read that to mean that we expect that the children who will go into schools will access this vaccine and get it,” the Minister said.
On September 6, 41 of Guyana’s 348 nursery schools will open their doors to full face to face engagement for learners. The other 307 will operate on a rotation system which will see Year One and Year Two learners attending school on different days during the week. They will all meet no less than 2 hours per day or four hours per week.
Information on the days that nursery school-aged children are expected to be in school will be provided by the schools and the Ministry of Education.
Addressing nursery education was Assistant Chief Education Officer (Nursery) Ms Samantha Williams. She said that the return to school for nursery level will be nestled in strict compliance with COVID-19 measures. She also noted that individualised operational plans will be drafted taking into account the available physical space, the number of learners and the number of teachers.
The ratio of teachers to learners should not exceed 1:5 while a home-based package will also be provided to help parents continue their child’s learning at home.
School Administrators are responsible for ensuring a regularly sanitized environment while the PTA may use vaccinated parents to assist with the monitoring and supervision of children at schools.
Parents must adhere to strict drop off and pick up times, must ensure children take their home-based learning package to school and should do their best to attend weekly feedback sessions with teachers.
Children should also be encouraged not to borrow or touch the resources or masks of others, taught how to independently access their snacks and should be reverted to regular sleep routines. Children who are feeling unwell should not attend school.
For primary schools, Chief Education Officer, Dr. Marcel Hutson said that a somewhat similar approach to the nursery levels will be applied. A total of 44 of the country’s primary schools will reopen fully based on the availability of space. Another 413 will operate on a rotational basis. Grade Six pupils, however, will attend school daily.
He said that these decisions were not imposed on schools but schools communicated to the Ministry how they assessed they could best function.
He noted that a decision was made not to execute the National Grades 2, 4 and 9 assessments for the academic year 2021-July 2022 because students may not be adequately prepared. However, the National Grade Six Assesment (NGSA) has been set, tentatively, for July 6 and 7.
“The time is now for us to have these doors reopened, of course, absorbing the strictest of COVID-19 protocols like we have done when we open the secondary school doors for the upper grades…we are not dreaming. We are collaborating with all our stakeholders, teachers, parents, and anyone who has ideas as to how we could help and go forward we are well open to those kinds of things,” Dr. Hutson said.
Assistant Chief Education Officer (ACEO) for secondary schools, June-Ann Gonsalves told the gathering that individual plans have been crafted for secondary schools by their Administrations in collaboration with the PTA and Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs).
Seven secondary schools will be opened for all grade levels while the remaining 126 will operate on rotation. It was noted that it is compulsory for students from Grades 9-13 to attend sessions to ensure coverage of the examination curriculum, cover all SBAs and all necessary practicums.
All plans have taken into consideration the COVID-19 pandemic safety measures.
CONSOLIDATED CURRICULUM AND DIAGNOSTIC ASSESSMENT
Presenting information on the consolidated curriculum and the diagnostic assessment was Director of the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD), Quenita Walrond- Lewis.
She explained that the consolidated curriculum is a shared vision of how teaching and learning will take place to ensure students can return to face-to-face learning after such a long hiatus. It was developed across the four core content areas — language arts, math, science and social studies — and caters to Grades 1-9.
It will be utilized nationally and will help to support teachers and reduce their school-related stress. ”It is not a new or different curriculum. This is the same curriculum that our teachers are exposed t and experienced with. However, it’s a tightening or streamlining of the existing national curriculum,” she said.
Several teaching topics have been merged to create efficiencies such as handwriting and composition, for example. Learning objectives were also assessed for duplication and it was determined whether some things could be removed. Altogether, the curriculum was compressed from the 32 to 38-week offering into a 22-week package.
Teachers are being trained on how to navigate and utilize the consolidated curriculum, conduct grade-level appropriate Guyana diagnostic assessments, and determine the programmatic entry point for teaching and learning for the class and individual students, if significant deficits are detected.
Meanwhile, the diagnostic assessment deals with the learners’ psychosocial state and general well being and their attitudes towards returning to the learning space.
Chief Education Officer, Dr. Marcel Hutson, in his remarks, said while the easiest thing for the Ministry to do would be to give up or wait to see how the pandemic pans out, it has decided to take the tougher but more beneficial road.
He said: “Leadership is about fighting, even in crises and arriving at the best solutions to treat with a problem.” Dr. Hutson expressed confidence in the Ministry’s plan. Generally, he said that citizens want schools to be reopened and studies have shown that failure to have face-to-face engagements for a prolonged period will do the nation’s children more harm than good.