There appears to be a great deal of uncertainty, tentativeness and incompleteness surrounding arrangements for the start of the new academic year today in Trinidad and Tobago.
In one of his most recent announcements to the country in the updates on the national situation regarding the march of Covid-19, the Prime Minister declared that schools will remain closed until next January.
That was subsequently cleared up and the provision of education to the nation’s children, both at the primary and secondary levels, is set to resume today as scheduled. At a news conference last Friday, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly announced a raft of proposals, hardly any of which has at yet been firmly cast, for the delivery of home-schooling to the nation’s children.
Further, when asked by a reporter whether teachers were expected to turn out at schools, the minister responded with this rhetorical retort, as referenced by a letter to the editor yesterday. “Aren’t we all out working?”
At that news conference, the minister said teachers were going to be required to monitor and record attendance and participation, and provide daily reports to principals. She said if pupils are not participating, the Ministry’s Students Support Services Division is required “to intervene”. This is simply going to be one additional task on the shoulders of this critical element of the ministry’s human resources apparatus, already heavily-laden with issues involving indiscipline and learning challenges among pupils. In many cases, the one finds expression in the other. Such professionals also have as part of their duties, the provision of services to children with special needs. In the best of circumstances, members of this unit have been complaining of being overworked and under-resourced.
Minister Gadsby-Dolly also disclosed a plan under which the government has approached a named group of corporate citizens, as well as alumni associations, to help provide equipment for distance learning, with the use of devices for online learning. She said this was the best alternative to face-to-face learning.
In addition, the minister said, the administration had taken a position of using public television channels 4 and 16, for the running of instructional materials. She said other discussions were “on-going” regarding the provision of general education features via radio programming and a schedule of such programme would be published shortly.
Notwithstanding the mercilessly short period of time between the August 10 general election and today’s start of the new academic year, under the cloud of Covid-19, the inconclusiveness of any of these arrangements is certainly not a comforting sign.
It presages a further period of uncertainty and delay in the provision of the education product, with the negative consequences this would have on classroom cohorts across the country.
On top of this ambition, however, the minister also disclosed disconcertingly, that information has shown that pupils with access to such devices do not use them as expected.
Provision of newspaper pull-outs for the conduct of classes at Early Childhood Care and Education Centres and the provision of school meals through the offices of Members of Parliament are also on this large and complex agenda.
There is much to be nervous about in these arrangements. The ministry must ensure that it is agile as perhaps never before, as it seeks to minimise fall-out and disappointment in its delivery.