AT least 1,000 primary school pupils from the public school system have dropped out of school over the past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic which had forced the Ministry of Education (MoE) to close schools and adopt online learning.
Additionally, a significant drop out rate has been recorded at the secondary school level, where several students who registered for the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams did not turn up to write the exams.
Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, made these alarming disclosures on Wednesday, during her presentation at the launch of the Teachers Welfare Benefits Programme at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre.
Highlighting the valuable role teachers play, the minister pointed out that Guyana has already begun to significantly feel the effects of the learning loss resulting from the more than 17-month closure of schools.
“We are beginning to see and feel tangibly, the effects of this school closure, predicted by UNESCO, the World Bank, UNICEF, and every other study around the world,” she stated before adding:
“We have seen significant learning loss…Dropouts at the primary school level is at least 1,000 so far. We have seen dropouts before the completion of the secondary cycle. Students registered to write CXC but didn’t turn up to write it; already they are in the backdams.”
The COVID-19 situation has exacerbated the school dropout rate at the secondary level, where just 50 per cent of students who were enrolled remained until the final grade, according to statistics from 2017.
Though primary schools had a more encouraging figure, with a national average of 93 per cent making it to the final grade, the COVID-19 situation now threatens to erode that.
The minister emphasised that because of this, it was prudent that the ministry make the move to physically reopen schools and return to face-to-face learning.
“We can’t afford to lose our children, we simply can’t. It would be us dooming them to a life of poverty and hardship… the one sure way to be comfortable and have plenty, and be able to interpret things for one self, the only sure way is through a solid education,” Minister Manickchand expressed.
Schools in Guyana reopened to face-to-face learning, with individualised plans, on September 6, after having been closed since March 16 last year. After initially having no engagement, in September 2020, the MoE began re-engaging students virtually; however, this was largely insufficient in many cases.
As students continued to be affected by the situation, teachers and parents lobbied for the reopening of schools. In the interim, many teachers began allowing the students back into the classroom.
Though cognisant that teachers were defying protocol, the minister said she sympathised as the love for students motivated the teachers to act in that manner.
“Teachers taught however they could. Breaking the rules and taking children back to schools. Ninety-five per cent of our NGSA pupils went to schools. When officers visited, they said that they were marking books. That was an act of love, deep care and wanting your children to do well,” she said.
Not wanting learners to be exposed to “black market” education, the ministry made the decision to reopen schools. She commended the teachers for taking part in the creation of individualised plans for the reopening of the respective schools, which includes the adherence to COVID-19 protocols such as social distancing.
“The pandemic is going nowhere. The prediction is we might get a break in August 2022, but look at how far off that is. What do we do in the meanwhile? So, I am very pleased to say that each plan from each school [for the reopening] came from you [the teachers]. We gave broad guidelines from the ministry. Your schools told us how you would do that,” Minister Manickchand noted.