“We cannot close education system” – President Ali

…as Opposition agrees but claims reopening “unorganised”

Addressing concerns over Government’s decision to reopen schools for classroom learning amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, President Dr Irfaan Ali has argued that Guyana cannot continue to keep schools close.
During an emergency press briefing on Wednesday to update the country on the rapid raise of COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, the Head of State pointed to data emanating from countries around the world which have kept their education systems opened despite this new surge of infections caused by the Omicron variant.

Students at the South Ruimveldt Secondary School on Monday

“We have seen all the data so far, and most countries – almost all the countries – are saying we cannot close the schools. We cannot close the education system. They are keeping the schools open. They are doing the testing and taking the precautions, they are encouraging the wearing of masks,” he said, noting that the same is being done in Guyana.
Schools across the country were reopened on Monday for the various levels – a move which has attracted criticisms from the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition.
During a press conference on Thursday, Opposition Member of Parliament, Dr Nicolette Henry expressed disappointment over what she described as the “unorganised” reopening of schools in Guyana.
“Yes, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) would have indicated that it would be in the best interest, in order to reduce learning loss, to have schools reopened. But they did not stop there. They also pointed out that in order for schools to be safe, there are certain measures that must be put in place, which, as far as I’m aware, they have not been put in place. So, there is where we have to disconnect and there is where the concern, particularly at the level of the coalition, arises,” the former Education Minister under the coalition Administration posited.
But Education Minister Priya Manickchand had previously explained that children were missing out on valuable learning time with the use of virtual and/or rotational classes, hence, the decision to reopen public schools for classroom learning.
At a press conference back in December, Manickchand had first announced the reopening of Grades 6, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 for full physical all-day classes. Then ahead of the reopening of the Easter Term, the Education Ministry last week released its reopening plan indicating that the remaining grades and nursery schools will have either online or face-to-face classes on a rotational basis.
The Ministry had noted that the reopening would feature the observation of COVID-19 protocols such as masking and social distancing in the classrooms as well as regular sanitising of the premises.
Only one teacher at the Mabaruma Primary School had tested positive for the novel coronavirus after she complained of feeling unwell.
Region One (Barima-Waini) Chairman Brentnol Ashley told <<<Guyana Times>>> earlier this week that, “She was in Georgetown and would’ve returned to school late and upon her return to school she would’ve been tested and she was tested positive… She was placed into isolation and all the other teachers were tested and their results would’ve returned negative.”
Nevertheless, he noted that the operation of the school has not been affected and it was still open. In fact, Ashley said that the school has been sanitised.
Meanwhile, the Education Ministry on Thursday confirmed that one student at the Anna Regina Multilateral School has tested positive. This was in response to claims by the Opposition that “a number of students” at the Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) school tested positive.
But according to the Ministry, the Department of Education in Region Two, which conducted a supervisory visit at the school on Wednesday, has indicated that all protocols are being observed.

Layer of protection
During his emergency briefing, President Ali had disclosed that in addition to ensuring the necessary COVID-19 protocols are being observed in schools, his Government has even ensured another layer of protection for students with the procurement of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for the age 12 to 17 cohort.
“We brought in the vaccines for children 12 to 17. We were pushing hard education for parents to have them vaccinated,” the Head of State pointed out.
Recent figures show that since the start of the administration of COVID shots to students in September 2021, some 30,701 or 42.1 per cent of the adolescent population has received a first dose, while 21,906 or 30 per cent are fully vaccinated.
According to Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony, during his COVID update on Thursday, the uptake among this age cohort is slow.
However, Minister Manickchand had premised the return to school on the fact that students have this layer of protection now.
“If persons are not going to take the vaccine, then we cannot keep our children out of school and it is unfair to the children who took the vaccine that they’re unable to access schooling,” she had stated during the December press conference.