Govt still aiming for September reopening of schools – Head of State
… says impact of COVID-19 on education frightening
In light of the frightening impact that the novel coronavirus pandemic has had on the education system globally, and in Guyana, President Dr Irfaan Ali has underscored the importance of reopening schools.
Schools in Guyana have been closed since the outbreak of COVID-19 here in March 2020. There has been partial reopening only to accommodate students writing national and regional examinations.
Emphasising the importance of the education, President Ali told reporters on the sidelines of an event on Thursday that the medium to long-term impact on the education system will be felt when an assessment is done. This, he noted, is also being seen is other countries.
“Many countries are already giving frightening reports in terms of the impact. I’ve been travelling around this country and I know I’ve seen children who ought to be in school, they are out of the system. So, we have to get back to school,” he stressed.
On this note, the Head of State outlined that the measures have to be put in place to facilitate the reopening of school including vaccination of teachers and other school administration staff as well as parents.
“We create the conditions to ensure that we get back to school and that is what we are aiming for,” the President posited. This is in relation to the previous announcement that Government is aiming to reopen school in September.
Currently, Guyana’s vaccination campaign only targets the adult population, that is, persons 18-years and older. However, the country is likely to benefit from a donation by the United States government to the Caribbean Community (Caricom) of COVID-19 vaccines including the Pfizer jab.
The Ali-led administration has already committed to use the Pfizer vaccines to immunised the children population, especially those in school so as to ensure their safety once school is reopened. This assurance was reiterated by the Head of State on Thursday.
“I want to assure all Guyanese that once we get the Pfizer vaccine, it will be going to the children,” the President maintained.
Earlier this month, Dr Ali had revealed that US government has since committed some 7 million doses from its existing federal stockpiles of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines to the Latin America and the Caribbean region as part of its global pledge. This is as Caricom is currently in talks with the US over the availability of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to the region.
“I can’t say what is coming. I know that we are in discussion at CARICOM with the US. The US has committed to giving vaccines to the region… What I can say is that once it is Pfizer, I can tell you this policy now, it will go to the children, starting from 18 and below,” the Head of State said three weeks ago.
According to the Head of State, while he is unsure about the amount of jabs the country will receive under this arrangement, he is hopeful that it will “be substantial for Guyana”.
“Let us say that we get Pfizer through the US opportunity and we roll out Pfizer for those 18 and below and we can capture the whole cohort, population for secondary schools that will be exceedingly good for us,” the president had stated.
At the time, Health Authorities had disclosed that since March 2020, some 1,567 children under the age of 14 have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Since then, this figure has increased.
In fact, only last week, a 16-year-old boy from Region Nine (Upper Takutu- Upper Essequibo) succumbed from the life-threatening disease. He was a cancer-patient and was hospitalised in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Oceanview Hospital after contracting the virus. Two other children, an 11-year-old and a 17-year-old, have also died from COVID-19 in Guyana.
A research from a 2000 plus sample size in 2020 had shown that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 100 per cent effective in preventing the COVID-19 virus in children ages 12 through 15.
In late 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed emergency use of the vaccine from age 16. This year the vaccine was given to children in the US from ages 12 to 15.
Plea with parents
Meanwhile, in anticipation on the Pfizer jab, Education Minister Priya Manickchand pleaded with parents to get immunised and to ensure that when the vaccine becomes available, to have their children inoculated as well.
Addressing parents in Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Upper Berbice), which has the low vaccination figures in the country, Minister Manickchand explained that the COVID-19 vaccination rate is closely related to the possibility of schools reopening to physical teaching/learning.
Manickchand said that despite the many interventions by the Ministry of Education and its teachers to keep children engaged, students’ performance has dropped. The Minister added too that studies show the longer school doors remain closed, children will suffer from learning loss and more students will drop out.
“If you don’t take this vaccine, I can’t open schools and if we don’t open schools your children will suffer. All these dreams we had of what they will be when they grow up will be affected. It is one of the realities of the times we’re living. You are their only shield… It is not a mandatory thing, but I’m begging you to consider it and to take this vaccine. Do this for our children. It’s a plea, I’m begging you,” the Education Minister implored with parents. (G8)