Education and the COVID-19 pandemic

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected almost every aspect of national life, and experts have suggested it is uncertain how long it would take for life in general to return to normalcy, if ever it would return to normalcy.
It is the first time in history that the world’s children are at home and cannot attend school due to the various lockdown measures imposed upon populations all over the world to contain the spread of the virus.
With the end of the pandemic being nowhere in sight, we do not know how long schools would remain closed, how students’ learning would be affected, and the level of impact these closures would have on the education systems of developing countries such as Guyana.
In relation to the virus itself, no one knows for sure what would happen next. For example, key questions remain in relation to the source of the virus, whether it is possible for recovered patients to be re-infected, and how long it would take to develop and distribute a vaccine that would effectively combat the virus. Until these questions are answered, there would be no clear path in regard to moving forward. What we know for sure is that learning would indeed be lost, and this would certainly have a negative impact on students’ ability in general. The closure of schools and universities not only interrupts the teaching of students, but severely hampers key assessments or exams which are crucial to students’ moving forward.
While some countries are gradually reopening their schools to students, the majority are yet to do so, since there are new COVID-19 cases every day, and rising deaths are being reported.
Of the 195 countries that had closed schools as at mid- April, 128 are yet to announce plans for their reopening, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
Of the countries affected by school closures, a few of them — mostly the developed ones — were able to put systems in place quickly to minimise its impact. For example, due to easy access to high-speed internet and the availability of the necessary resources, teachers were able to distribute work to students via online platforms, and also were able to engage the students using these technologies.
In Guyana, caretaker President David Granger said on Thursday that the curfew would remain until the situation is properly under control. This means that not only would students lose out on quite a lot of learning time, but most of the crucial assessments would either have to be postponed or cancelled.
While the few educational resources in the form of past exam papers and radio and TV programmes are generally helpful, they also have their limitations. Not every parent has the ability to provide this level of support to their child/children. Many families do not have a computer, and also cannot afford to pay for internet services to access the Ministry’s resources online.
The One Laptop Per Family Project (OLPF) was meant to fill this gap, but was unfortunately halted on the basis of politics. Going forward, given the huge impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government and other stakeholders would seriously need to plan for the future. For example, investments would have to be made in building the kind of infrastructure needed to support distance learning. More and more, classroom learning is being supported by other platforms, including online.
While a definite date for the reopening of schools is not yet known, it is essential that educational institutions reopen in an orderly manner, in line with a number of pre-conditions. The authorities must place the health and safety of pupils, teachers and families as a main concern. The Ministry would need to consider designing remedial programmes to cater for students who need to redouble efforts to reconcile with the curriculum, since not all students would have been engaged in doing work during the period they were at home.