Schools reopen despite unpreparedness

…some still without handwashing stations, clean yards

With incomplete construction of handwashing sinks and other insufficient amenities, both primary and secondary students were still required to turn up at their respective schools on Monday to prepare for examinations.

The new classroom setting being used

As mandated by the Education Ministry, class sessions commenced despite an evident state of unpreparedness at many institutions. Moreover, there were gaps in implementing all the guidelines necessary to protect students from the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
While parents were assured by authorities of handwashing sinks at the gates, construction workers were seen at many schools now installing the facilities. Over at the Richard Ishmael Secondary School, the concrete station was being plastered with cement in the early-afternoon hours.
The promise of clean surroundings also faltered, as some schoolyards were not cleaned as yet while some were in the process of being weeded. At others, like the St Joseph High School’s, the grass was being picked up from the compound.
For students to return to school, education officials had announced that all stakeholders would be required to wear masks and practise social distancing. But during a visit to schools within the Georgetown district, this was not completely adhered to.

Lack of social distancing at St George’s Secondary

In fact, many were seen outside in the schoolyard without masks. While social distancing was somewhat practised at the institutions, the scenario quickly changed when the students departed the building. As soon as students rushed out the gates, they returned to the norm of huddling in the streets and walking in groups – defying social distancing guidelines.
One teacher, after being contacted by Guyana Times, indicated that they could not control what was done outside the school environment, but could only advise children to follow the guidelines. She urged parents to ensure that their children return home immediately after classroom activities.

A handwashing facility being built on Monday at Richard Ishmael Secondary School

Prior to the reopening, several stakeholders, including the Guyana Teachers Union, had called for the examinations to be postponed, but this call was ignored by the Education Ministry. With the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA); Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) exams scheduled for July and August, students have less than one month to prepare.
In a statement later on Monday, the Education Ministry said some students from the Grade Six classes were not focusing on revision since the syllabus was already completed before the lockdown in mid-March.
Vreed-en-Hoop Primary Grade Six teacher Tallmattie Yadram said that the children now had their timetables for the remainder of the week to continue working.
On the other hand, the secondary level is adapting to the new format which the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic. At the Vreed-en-Hoop Secondary, students are completing multiple-choice questions so that there is greater familiarity with this new move.
Last Tuesday, Prime Ministerial Candidate of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), Retired Brigadier Mark Phillips addressed the issue during a radio interview on 99.1 FM, by advising the Education Ministry to take another look at its plans – which are seemingly flawed.
He highlighted that apart from the implemented measures at the schools, other factors were not taken into consideration. In fact, the Ministry failed to address transportation to and from school for these children, implying that they would have to utilise public transport. Travelling on public transportation is known to increase chances of contracting infectious disease, owing to the large number of people in confined spaces. Phillips had acknowledged that many students would be challenged in maintaining social distancing from each other.