NURSERY and primary schools across the country saw a high turnout of learners as physical teaching commenced on schedule on Monday, ending an almost 17-month school closure brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to preliminary data from the Ministry of Education (MoE), 70 per cent of the nursery children and 95 per cent of nursery teachers were at school, while at the primary level, 92 per cent of teachers and 65 per cent of the pupils were in attendance.
Secondary schools will be reopened next month due to the ongoing vaccination of students. As of Monday, over 7000 of the approximately 55,000 secondary schools students had already taken their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. Government is currently rolling out a vaccination programme that targets secondary schools in all ten regions.
After visiting several schools in the city, Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand said the turnout was encouraging and a testament to the drive of some parents and teachers to see the learners back to learning normally.
“I think today went very well. We had a plan, we put the plan into place and the plan is working. There’s no right or wrong thing that happened today in terms of who brought their children. We gave parents the choice, and we will work with parents with whichever decision they take,” Manickchand conveyed.
Schools reopened with individualised plans, whereby, some schools are opened to all levels throughout the week, while others will alternate between grades on differing days. In many cases, particular grade levels will not have school every day.
However, the opening did not go as planned in Region Ten, where residents took part in a shutdown of the region in protest of the national vaccination requirements.
Additionally, several schools across the country were not reopened as several staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.
Minister Manickchand noted that positive cases among schools are to be expected as the virus has affected teachers and students.
“More than 10 schools were unable to open in different regions because teachers and school staff were positive. But let’s remember that even before we opened, there were teachers who were positive and more than 4000 children were COVID-19 positive over the last year while we were out of school, so school alone is not the spreader,” Minister Manickchand noted.
The school reopening was done to facilitate those parents and teachers who wished to return to the classroom. However, parents who still have concerns are allowed to keep their children at home and would be able to pick up learning resources made available to the schools.
Manickchand said while parents were given the option to keep their children at home if they so desired, the reopening was a move to find a balance and forms part of the ministry’s use of individualized programmes to ensure optimum education delivery.
“There is no right or wrong. We’re trying to respond to both the people who want to come to school and the people who want to stay home. This balance allows parents to keep their children home but to open schools for those who want to come to school. We are just trying to serve everybody and that’s what we did here today,” she said.
Meanwhile, mother of three, Bhano Persaud, said she did have some concerns about students returning to the classroom amid the continuing spread of the virus, but she understands the strain it has placed on her children’s education.
“I was worried about their health but I realized it has been over a year since they are home and we can’t keep them away forever. They would focus and learn better in school. It was very challenging to have to work and come home to work with three kids,” she explained.
Her children are nine, seven and four years old. She said she has cautioned her children on the importance of adhering to COVID-19 prevention measures, and believes she made the right decision for her children’s education.
“I just keep educating them about social distance, no hugging with friends, keeping their masks on at all times, sanitising and washing their hands often, not to touch their masks or put their hands in their mouth. And I also encourage them to eat healthy and take their vitamins,” she noted.
Schools in Guyana have been closed to face-to-face teaching since March 2020, while schools officially reopened to virtually learning in September, 2020. Schools then partially reopened to physical teaching for secondary school students in Grades 10, 11 and 12 in November 2020.
Grade Six pupils would’ve also partially attended physical classes intermittently in preparation for the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA). However, majority of learners have not been engaged physically.
Amidst the lengthy closure and risks of extensive learning loss, many teachers, over the months, have lobbied the ministry for schools to be reopened. Some teachers began allowing students to return even as they awaited official approval from the ministry.
“This reopening is based on a call from teachers. Teachers told us that they could not engage their children except if we go back to the physical classroom. They were insisting that we do and this is why we’re back in the classrooms,” the minister related.
During the first few days of this new school term, learners will be administered diagnostic assessments to see what level of learning they are at and this will be used to guide teachers going forward in helping to make up for the learning loss they might have suffered.