All Forms Four to Six return to physical classes

All students in Forms Four to Six have been ordered to return to the physical classroom from next Monday–October 25, regardless of their vaccination status at this time.

Announcing this latest directive during a media briefing at the Ministry of Education (MoE) yesterday, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said data collection during the past two weeks relating to the daily attendance of students, indicate, “school attendance is consistently lower in the government secondary schools with an average of 50 per cent of the eligible cohort attending school physically.”

She said, “The Government does not hold nor accept the position that the physical return of students to the classroom should be further delayed.”

The minister said denominational secondary schools and private institutions were recording higher student attendance levels which were said to be around 80 per cent and increasing daily, with some reporting as much as 95 per cent physical attendance.

In mandating this cohort of students back to school for classroom teaching and the completion of practicals and School-Based Assessments (SBA’s), Gadsby-Dolly said in addition, “Schools are not required to provide online classes or synchronous sessions for students of Forms Four to Six, or equivalent in lieu of student attendance at physical classes. All students are expected to attend school physically.”

Students attending special schools along with their support staff are being allowed to attend school physically, according to a suitable rotational schedule devised by principals.

Meanwhile, students in Forms One to Three or equivalent, will continue to engage in remote learning.

Gadsby-Dolly said, “Unless otherwise advised, these students will return to the physical classroom in January, 2022, which is Term II of academic year 2021/2022.”

Principals have been advised that they can request permission from the ministry to have their Forms One to Three students physically visit the school for orientation exercises during this term, if required.

ECCE to continue operating remotely

Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) centres, primary schools and tertiary level teaching classes have also been ordered to continue operating remotely at this time.

Pressed to say why the MoE had now moved to have both the vaccinated and unvaccinated students return to the same physical space, Gadsby-Dolly said based on what has been happening in the last two weeks, “We do not have the numbers to suggest that students will be returning in the required amounts any time soon, and this now puts their education at risk.”

“The Government is not closing our eyes to that situation. Parents would have made a choice not to vaccinate their children and that is now respected by the government, so we are saying to you that is no longer required at school, so send your children to school because if you do not do that, very soon their education will be compromised.”

Asked if teachers will be mandated to get vaccinated, the minister said this remains a personal choice for individuals and they will have to choose how they want to interact with others.

Following a meeting with the T&T Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) and other stakeholders on October 13 and 14 respectively, recommendations were submitted for the physical operations at schools, as well as proposed changes going forward.

Yesterday’s directive by the Government was contrary to the call by TTUTA president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas who only last week demanded the discontinuation of all face-to-face classes for Forms Four and Six students, except for those required to complete the practical components.

Based on advice from the Ministry of Health (MoH), only vaccinated students in Forms Four to Six were allowed to return to the physical classroom from October 4.

Tekah-De Freitas has argued that the burden of face-to-face as well as online classes for teachers had more than doubled their workload, and that they were already suffering burn-out and frustration.

In addition, the TTUTA head said they categorically disagreed with the reopening of physical school for Forms One to Three as they believe this will create a higher level of inequity and disproportionate hardship for students.

Gadsby-Dolly yesterday said, “Data collected by the MoE as of October 10, 2021, indicates that 30 per cent of the Forms Four to Six cohort is at this time fully vaccinated. Thirty four per cent of denominational schools have reported more than 50 per cent of their Forms Four to Six students are fully vaccinated, while one per cent of Government schools indicated the same.”

Data from the Ministry of Health up to October 19, indicates that 49,853 or 54 per cent of students between the ages of 12 to 18, had received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while only 36,540 or 40 per cent had received their second dose.

The minister claimed vaccination trends and daily attendance records confirmed that teaching of Forms Four to Six students was, “taking place mainly online, though provisions have been made by the Government for the students’ safe return to the physical classroom.”

She said an analysis of the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) and the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) examinations for 2021 was evidential proof of the globally predicted decline in student performance which was attributed, in part, to the students’ absence from the physical school environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A break-down of the results for SEA 2021 revealed that 1.5 per cent more students scored over 90 per cent when compared to 2020 – but 6.7 per cent more students was said to have scored under 30 per cent.

The results of the CXC examinations released on October 15 revealed that seven per cent less students obtained five passes or more in the Caribbean Secondary Entrance Certificate (CSEC) exam in 2021 than in 2020; while 1.3 per cent less acceptable grades were achieved in the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exam (CAPE) 2021 when compared with 2020.

The minister said, “One of the main factors in arresting any decline in student achievement during this pandemic is the safe return of all our students to the physical classroom for more effective teaching and learning.”

Despite the continued supply of laptops and MiFi devices to teachers and students to facilitate remote learning, the minister reiterated government’s position to get students back into the physical classroom as soon as possible.

She added, “The devices distributed would be used for blended curriculum delivery, as is best practice worldwide.”

The minister appealed to parents to get their children vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus as this continues to be the best protection against becoming grievously ill.

The Education Ministry has promised to update the Guidelines for School Reopening which will be circulated to principals.

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