It will be tragic if Covid-19 is allowed to take more from the nation’s children than it already has.
While the full impact of being denied face-to-face teaching is yet to be quantified, anecdotal evidence indicates that many children, especially those in low-income and rural families, are falling through the cracks. There is the very real risk that the academic education of some may be irrevocably set back, while others who have fallen out of the system may never even return to school. As is well known, the longer children stay out of school the less likely they are to return. We have no idea if and how the Ministry of Education is assessing the impact of the physical closure of schools on the nation’s children, but we hope its systems for continuous monitoring, assessment and feedback are sufficiently engaged to provide an accurate picture of the situation.
Apart from pupils in Forms Four to Six who returned to physical classes for limited periods on February 8, the entire school population is still being taught remotely. For many, the experience is one of making the best of the pandemic situation without the benefits of participation and engagement that in-person teaching provides.
A World Bank Report released a few days ago echoes the recurring fear that Covid-19 could take education systems in Latin America and the Caribbean back to the 1960s by erasing some of the progress made in bridging the opportunity gap for children in rural areas and low-income families.
Using a learning loss simulation tool to project the future impact of school closures, the World Bank cited Trinidad and Tobago and Chile as countries where learning-adjusted years of schooling (LAYS) could drop by 1.5 years. LAYS is defined as a metric that combines the amount of schooling that children typically reach with the quality of learning during school years, relative to a benchmark.
In a situation where even pre-pandemic the national education system and its outcomes were far less than ideal, any new and additional learning deficit caused by the pandemic will confront this country with a herculean educational task in the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In this, T&T will not be alone and, as such, should embrace the opportunity with its regional partners to re-conceptualise and re-design the learning experience. The Government’s ongoing education transformation exercise needs an infusion of fresh insights and ideas. Its studied avoidance of alternative education systems and lack of representation of non-traditional teaching methods do not inspire confidence in an outcome of transformational change. But this is exactly what is needed to excite children to the higher level of performance needed for overcoming the learning losses incurred by the pandemic.
After one year, the ministry should be in a position to provide a clinical evaluation of the pandemic’s impact on our children. Such an evaluation must be the basis for designing interventions to re-engage those who have dropped out and to dynamise the learning environment in order to hold the attention of the pupil population.
We must fight to keep them engaged or we lose them at the risk of losing the future.