Psychologist calls on Govt to close schools with COVID outbreak

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…insists on strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols

By Svetlana Marshall

At a time when Guyana is faced with another surge of COVID-19, resulting in well over 10,000 active cases, among them teachers and students, Lecturer and Psychologist, Wil Campbell said it would be prudent for the Ministry of Education to close schools plagued by COVID-19, while ensuring that there is strict adherence to the COVID-19 protocols within non-affected schools.

The Ministry of Education, however, has remained adamant that schools must remain open as it employs a rotational system for some grades. According to the Education Ministry’s Post-COVID 19 Exposure Policy, only the affected and those, who were in close contact, are required to seek medical attention, isolate or quarantine until further notice. Importantly, schools are asked to remain open despite having confirmed cases of the virus.

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In an interview with the Village Voice Newspaper, Campbell, who once served as a Headmaster, said it would be wise for the Education Ministry to close schools that are experiencing an “outbreak” of COVID-19 cases.

“… If you have an outbreak in a particular school, then to just send those persons home wouldn’t do anything because by then, so many other persons would have been in contact with them. And so just sending those persons home does very little to stop the spread,” he reasoned.

While noting that there should be no rush to fully reopen schools amid the ongoing pandemic, the Psychologist said he understands the dilemma in which the Education Ministry finds itself, that is, striking a balance between educating students and at the same time, keeping them safe and healthy during the pandemic.

“I really believe that some kind of balance should be in place so that you get the best of both worlds; some kind of rotation system that maintains social distancing, maintains proper sanitization protocols while allowing students to come in, get face-to-face education but not necessarily every day and not necessarily for the extended period regular schools would entail,” he submitted.

Under the current system, teachers are required to report for duty every day while at the secondary level, Grades 9,10 and 11 are required to attend school daily. Grades 7 and 8 students attend school on a rotational basis. Classes are also being rotated for primary school students.

However, the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) believes that loopholes within the system created to safeguard students and teachers from COVID have created a breeding ground for the virus to spread.

At the majority of schools, if not all, students and teachers are required to check their temperature, sanitize regularly and wear their masks all day. If any COVID-related symptoms are detected, teachers are required to follow the Education Ministry’s Post-COVID 19 Exposure Policy, however, students are not required to social distance.

In fact, at many schools, students are seated in pairs on a single bench, and therefore cannot adequately distance themselves from one another. “There are too many loop holes. The students are not required to social distance. They are seated two in a bench in some instances. Due to this we had several instances of persons being compromised because someone failed to recognize the symptoms and isolate,” one senior high school teacher told the Village Voice Newspaper.

Campbell said while rotating the classes is good, it is important for all protocols to be observed simultaneously. “… I am not sure why we can’t do some kind of rotation that allows social distancing because even if we are rotating and we are not social distancing, then we are defeating the entire purpose,” he posited.

He warned that that to do one without the other, would only result in a spread of the virus. “So what will happen is that people would become infected on different shifts, rather than all at the same shift. So if we don’t have proper sanitization protocols, if we don’t have social distancing then rotation doesn’t make sense. So I think all of those systems should be in place simultaneously, if we are going to make this thing work,” he reasoned.

While noting that he understands fully that the pandemic has resulted in a loss of learning, particularly for children who have little or no access to technological devices and or internet, Campbell said he believes that children can he adequately educated once proper techniques are employed. He made a case for the ‘flipped classroom model’ to be employed.

Flipped classroom is a blended system of learning that aims to increase student engagement and learning by having pupils complete readings at home and work on live problem-solving during class time.

Campbell also made a case for the classroom time to be reduced, and for subjects to be integrated, particularly at the primary school level.

“Another thing, if we cut down on the number of subjects that are being done, focus on some core

areas and try to integrate the ones that are left out in those core areas. So for example, there are four major areas in primary school, Math, English, Science and Social Studies. Everything can fit in there somewhere…If we focus on core areas, children really can use that knowledge to teach themselves other things. If they are able to master those core areas, that would make rotation a lot easier, if you don’t have that large number of subjects every day,” he reasoned.

Campbell, however, emphasized that regardless of the techniques employed, it is important to

adhere to all of the precautionary measures. “If we are not taking precautions all round, then we

really not making a lot of sense,” he posited.

The Psychologist also linked the surge in cases to the recent decision to relax the curfew during

the festive season. He said while the country cannot remain in lockdown indefinitely, he said that

the Government can scale back certain activities once there is a spike in cases.

“While we want to return to normal functioning, when we see numbers escalating then we could

pull back a little bit. We don’t have to be stubborn about this, we could pull back little bit,” he

posited. The Psychologist also called on parents and children to do their part by adhering to the

COVID-19 protocols. “We can’t control everything, but those things that are within our control, let us be diligent about it, so for example, when this thing first started in March 2020, people were going home and taking a shower as soon as they got home, we were washing out hands more frequently, we were wearing our mask, let’s go back to that,” he urged.



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