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 coronavirus (COVID-19).
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. Already, newly-appointed Education Minister Priya Manickchand has indicated that the reopening of schools is dependent on a number of factors, including COVID-19 statistics. With schools in Guyana having been closed for months, Manickchand’s consideration on the way forward with respect to safety and protection of our children before the reopening of educational facilities is welcome.
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, several are yet to announce plans for the reopening of schools, 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 quickly put systems in place to minimise the impact of school closures. 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, the caretaker APNU/AFC administration put very few educational systems in place to really help children who are at home. With the little that was in place, 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.
Under the Peoples Progressive Party Government, 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 new Government and other stakeholders will now have to plan for the future. There is certainly need for this project to be revived, as many parents cannot afford to purchase computers for their children, to facilitate online learning. As a long-term plan, and with the experience of COVID-19, the new Education Minister will have to advocate for investments which 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.
As we have said before, 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 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.
Priya Manickchand, as the Education Minister, has over nine years of experience as a Government Minister. We have no doubt that she is capable and competent enough to quickly constitute an educational system plan that would greatly assist our children to return to some form of normalcy.