The impact of learning loss due to COVID-19 is now at the forefront in its true sense, now that schools are fully reopened.
It was always understood and known that the pandemic has significantly affected the level of learning of children.
Now that the extent of this impact due to diagnostic tests is recognized, the Education Ministry is examining whether or not to continue classroom activities during the usual July and August school term break.
To quote Education Minister Priya Manickchand: “I don’t think people really appreciate what two years of school closure has done. But we have to find ways to make sure that these children get exposed to the hours of education that they need. We may have to work into July/August. How we do that would be dependent on who’s willing to work and all of that…We have real issues academically to pursue. We have already administered diagnostics that would check to see where students are, relative to where they should be. That’s how we’re going to be teaching.”
Like Guyana, this is a discussion that has engaged much debate in several counties, which are trying to recuperate from the impact of loss of school/learning time. However, this is not a recent discussion for many other counties as, for example, New York, among other states in the US, school superintendents have been for years now advocating for the scrapping of what they have described as “outdated” July and August break and moving to year-round calendars.
During an assessment of COVID on learning in Guyana, Manickchand had some time ago said that, at the primary level, at least 1000 children had dropped out of school due to the pandemic.
At the time of that announcement, the newspaper had welcomed the Education Ministry’s “Operation Recovery”. That programme, which was aimed at finding those primary school students who have been continuously absent from school, was very important.
Absenteeism from school can thwart the educational development of our children, thus “Operation Recovery” saw education officers going into communities to find students who were continuously absent from school.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the operation of the education systems of most countries in the world like it has challenged Guyana’s, since generally their curricula are delivered in face-to-face classrooms, where the probability of transmitting the virus increases exponentially. There is no doubt that the Education Ministry, and by extension the Government, has done a remarkable job for learning to continue for students across the country. It was President Dr Irfaan Ali who had said last year that the global situation with children being out of school is indeed “frightening”.
To quote President Ali: “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…to create the conditions to ensure that we get back to school, and that is what we are aiming for.”
No one should underestimate the level of planning and the kind of resources that are needed to ensure that academic learning continues and students and teachers are safe in these challenging times.
Around the world, COVID-19 had caused an extraordinary amount of flexibility around the disruption by the pandemic. The same level of flexibility could also be found to change school calendars if needed, and therefore we support the Education Ministry if it decides to have schools remain open during July and August to combat learning loss.
The Education Ministry must be commended for the work it has done to ensure learning continues.