After a two-week extension to the Christmas vacation as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak here, Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw has announced the second term of the 2020-2021 academic year will begin next Monday, with classes being taught online.
The virtual classes are being conducted as authorities seek to bring the COVID-19 outbreak, said to be triggered by a Boxing Day super spreader event, under control.
At a press briefing on Monday night, Bradshaw said preparations had initially been made for a gradual return to the physical classroom and resumption of face-to-face classes, but that was “regrettably” impacted by the upsurge in COVID-19 cases.
“Since the Prime Minister would’ve made her announcement that schools were not going back into the physical form until after the 14th [of January] … we’ve been spending a lot of time in the Ministry of Education relooking the plans for reopening of school, whether in a full format or obviously in this case, virtual format.
“And, of course, we leaned towards online classes at this point in time, simply because we recognize that from the Ministry of Health’s perspective it’s important that we take time to make sure that the country gets a handle on these cases,” she explained, noting that consultations were held with teachers and other stakeholders on the way forward.
Minister Bradshaw also gave the assurance that the Ministry was working to ensure every student had access to a device.
She revealed that over 8,680 students had received devices during Term One, which was also disrupted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, there was a blended approach to teaching, as there was a mix of face-to-face and online classes at some schools, while others were able to continue within the classroom setting.
“We’ve compiled the majority of that data [and] we’ve estimated that we have between 4,000 and 5,000 kids, who may still not have electricity or [internet] connectivity at their respective homes, and the Government has made a decision, in the interim, to be able to proceed to purchase those devices on behalf of those students, so that we can ensure we can start school on the 18th of this month,” the Education Minister explained.
She added that Government was still aggressively working to finalize an arrangement with the Government of Kenya to obtain 21,000 devices.
Bradshaw also reported that efforts were underway to help students with special needs transition to virtual learning.
Meanwhile, she praised teachers for their cooperation, noting that they had been undergoing the necessary retraining and retooling in preparation for the virtual classes.
She added this would be an ongoing exercise as “it is nothing that you can learn within a matter of a couple of days”.
Acknowledging that the pandemic has been taxing socially, economically and psychologically on persons, Minister Bradshaw reassured that Government was doing everything possible to provide children with an education, with the support of teachers, parents and other stakeholders within the sector.
Meantime, health authorities have said they are “cautiously optimistic” that they will get a handle on the current COVID-19 outbreak in the island.
Senior Medical Officer of Health Dr. Anton Best said while the daily number of cases was fluctuating, they were declining overall.
He pointed out that the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory conducted just under 4,000 tests in the last 11 months. He said while there were 70 positive cases on Saturday, only six were recorded on Sunday.
Currently, there are 478 persons in isolation, while 399 have been discharged since the pandemic started.
The Senior Medical Officer said 18 per cent of staff members at Her Majesty’s Prisons, Dodds was diagnosed with COVID-19 so far, while 22 per cent of inmates tested positive for the viral illness.
“Associated with this cluster in the prison are 42 cases outside in the community. We also talked about the [Boxing Day] bus crawl, which is affiliated with the prison. And, we have diagnosed 16 persons within this particular cluster,” he said.
“We have other clusters that we’ve talked about. We have the West Coast clusters and the reason why I say ‘clusters’ is because it’s not one discrete cluster. It’s not one large cluster and it did not occur as a distinct event on a particular day, like the bus crawl cluster; and we currently have 67 persons in that cluster. Those clusters are associated with approximately six places on the West Coast. We also have a South Coast cluster, which is a small cluster but certainly four cases that we’ve linked to each other. And then, we have many other small clusters that we have not fully delineated.”
Dr. Best noted that vigorous contact tracing was occupying the time, effort and energy of staff at the island’s polyclinics.
He added that while they had made significant headway, there was still more contact tracing needed to isolate any new cases.