–during instructive but very interactive ‘Zoom’ meet with Education Minister on way forward
HAVING the writing of the 2021 National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) being done in July instead of in April, as well as adjusting the Grade Five and Six curriculums were among some of the suggestions made by teachers on Friday when they met with the Minister of Education Priya Manickchand during a virtual meeting.
Approximately 1100 persons were in attendance at Friday’s forum, which centered on garnering feedback from Grade Five and Six teachers on the way forward for the writing of the NGSA, and the return of their young charges to school.
Minister Manickchand emphasised that the meeting was an opportunity for the Ministry to hear from the teachers as they go about crafting a plan for the future delivery of education.
“It is not a forum where I am going to be talking a lot; we want to hear from you. We are here to listen to you about how best we can plan for you in the classroom,” she told the gathering as she delivered opening remarks.
Given that the meeting was a voluntary one, the Minister said she was heartened by the response from teachers, and the rich contributions that were made during the engagement, particularly by the teachers from far-flung areas.
Aside from the Grade Five and Six teachers, participants at the meeting included head-teachers; Regional Education Officers (REDOs); and other Ministry of Education Officials such as Head of the National Centre of Educational Resources Development (NCERD), Ms. Jennifer Cumberbatch, who also re-emphasised the Ministry’s readiness to listen to its teachers.
“We are really happy about the rich contributions we are getting; it shows that persons are really thinking, and we thank you,” Cumberbatch said.
CLOSED SINCE MARCH
With schools closed since March 16, due to the spread of COVID-19 here, and no structured plan or assessment being put in place during the closure, Ms. Manickchand has literally had to hit the ground running when she took up her ministerial post earlier this month.
The Minister noted that Friday’s meeting was the first of many engagements with teachers that the Ministry plans having going forward.
“We cannot continue as a ministry to fail to give direction or assistance to you, so we are here to talk and hear from you. There are many things you may be thinking of that we have not thought about on how we could best serve our children, and not be unfair to them or their teachers,” she said.
The Minister disparaged reports that the Ministry has nothing planned on the way forward, emphasising that the magnitude of work that needs to go into crafting an ideal plan will take time.
“Sometimes people say we take too long, and we seem to not know what we want,” she said, adding: “We know exactly where we are, and we know what’s missing. Unlike what we usually do, where the MoE makes decisions alone, in this case, there’s a lot of intricate things that we need to consider.”
She reiterated that because of the nature of the situation, education is not the only area involved.
“We have a responsibility to make decisions not for one set; not for one region; not for one group, but for a large number of persons,” she said. “This particular pandemic period puts us in a place where any decision we take is not taken solely by the MoE, or is solely based on information we garner. It’s not just education: It’s health; it’s social services,” she added.
‘JOB WELL DONE!’
On that score, she commended those teachers who, during the months of closure, have been finding ways and means of reaching out to their students, and continuing work in whatever way possible.
“Most schools have been closed since March, and teachers, without direction or assistance, were left to determine the way forward. There was no central direction or assistance, and I am extremely impressed by what teachers have done to reach our children. And we want to say thank you very much, because that required your own input and desire to teach the children,” the minister said.
Early into their discussions on Friday, teachers highlighted that emphasis needs to be placed on crafting programmes which specifically cater to those pupils and students who were most affected by school closures over the past few months, and would’ve been exposed to little or no learning during that time.
One teacher called for diagnostic testing to be administered to the students, so as to gauge how far behind they are, while there was also a call for some level of training to be done with parents, so that they can be better equipped to teach the children at home.
With schools closed, and the students at home, even with the assistance of teachers electronically, parents have had to play a bigger role in their children’s learning over these past few months, leaving teachers to now wonder how the methods implemented by the parents may clash with what they now will teach the children when they return to school.
“Many parents want to help, but they don’t know how to help. We need study guidelines for parents, so that parents can follow along and be relevant. A closer relationship is needed between the ministry, the teachers, the students and the parents, as we have to get into guiding the parents,” noted one teacher from Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica).
Teachers also suggested the possible implementation of subject teachers at the primary school level akin to what obtains at the secondary school level, as opposed to the current class-teacher structure at primary schools, where one teacher is expected to teach all the subject areas.
“I advocate that we use subject specialists, so that teachers would be able to focus more on the areas that are their strong points, rather than continuing to do so many subjects under a strain. If we embrace the subject specialist in the primary schools that could be something good,” suggested the head-teacher of St. Mary’s Primary School on the East Bank Demerara.
Other suggestions from those in attendance included the possible restructuring of the NGSA to place more focus on multiple- choice questions, as well as the restructuring of the curriculum.
“Can you review the curriculum, given the lost time and the difficulties encountered with learning Online, since it’s new for everybody? Secondly, could the final exam be based on multiple-choice and continuous assessment,” offered Natasha Anthony, who teaches at a private school.