Indigenous group slams ‘rushed’ reopening of hinterland schools

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…as Covid spreads many schools still awaiting sanitisers, other amenities

The South Rupununi District Council (SRDC) has registered its concerns over the rising cases of Covid-19 at the Aishalton Primary School.

In a statement the council also expressed concerns about the reopening of schools, especially in the South Rupununi. “The SRDC applauds the Government of Guyana’s efforts to reopen physical schools for our children in the hinterland areas enabling face to face interaction between teacher and student for all grades for this academic year.
Education for our children is critical for the future development and sustainability of our communities. The pandemic has a devastating impact on our communities including the education of our children. With little means to engage children, schools had to rely on work handouts to support our children. This posed many challenges for our communities.

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In this regard we welcomed school being officially opened on 6th September 2021.”
Alarmingly, however, the council pointed “within few days of opening, there was an outbreak in Aishalton Primary School which caused several children, all under the age of 12 years to contract the virus, prompting a decision to close the school for a period of time.”

This experience, the council said has exposed glaring gaps in the Education Ministry’s policy for the safe reopening of schools in the country but more importantly, in the hinterland where medical care, facilities and supplies have always been at a minimal. “Many schools are still awaiting sanitizing supplies and support to guarantee that the classrooms are safe and conducive to proper learning. Additionally, when there are delays in decisions to suspend classes our children health is being put further at risk. “Awaiting a decision by regional authorities has shown to be a slow process.

The SRDC calls on the Ministry of Education to: 1) make sure that all our schools have adequate sanitizing supplies and support; 2) health centres have adequate medical supplies to respond to an outbreak; 3) establish a rapid response team ( Toshao, Health worker, Headteacher) to determine whether to temporarily suspend classes until such time that a proper medical assessment can be done and a decision can be taken; and 4) outline a clear response process to follow that can be applied across our South Rupununi communities.”

According to the body, without this critical support the Ministry is placing our children and by extension our wider community at a high risk of contracting the virus.
Over 20 nursery and primary schools in Guyana have been forced to temporarily close their doors after children, teachers and auxiliary staff have come down with cases of COVID-19 less than two weeks after reopening to face-to-face learning.

On September 15, it was Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand who made the announcement that: “… we reopened schools last week and unfortunately we’ve had to close 17 in one week.” Since then, more schools have been added to this list. They include St. Margaret’s Primary, Liana’s Nursery and Grove Primary.

On September 6, 41 of Guyana’s 348 nursery schools opened their doors to full face-to-face engagement for learners. The other 307 were to operate on a rotation system. Meanwhile, 44 primary schools reopened fully based on the availability of space and another 413 were expected to operate on a rotational basis. Grade Six pupils, however, were to attend school daily.

Soon, it is expected that Secondary schools will begin attending face-to-face classes based on whether they are fully COVID-19 vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine.

Speaking at an event at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC), she told the audience that every country in the world that has reopened schools has had to deal with similar issues.

However, Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) General Secretary, Coretta McDonald has questioned whether it is evident now to the Education Minister that proper planning and consideration has not been put into the reopening of schools.

“There might be many more across the country because we’ve not gotten the full report from the hinterland region as yet

She said that there was a previous agreement with the MOE for the use of a 30-point document which would be used as a checklist for MOE and Union representatives to ensure that each school was prepared for reopening.



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