The Bahamas government says schools will reopen on October 5 throughout the archipelago with a number of new initiatives as the country gradually reopens its borders due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd, said that a substantial increase in virus in New Providence and other Family Islands, had forced the Department of Education to engage in more urgent planning and considerations. Schools were previously scheduled to open on September 21.
The comprehensive “Back-to-School” address on Monday highlighted measures the Ministry of Education (MOE) has taken to enhance education in the country and its delivery plans for the 2020 -2021 academic year.
Among the initiatives include the digitisation of the education system, universal pre-primary education, professional development for educators, increased tertiary level education, curriculum reform and children with special needs having the opportunity to receive appropriate instructions.
Lloyd said that in New Providence, Abaco and Eleuthera, schools will have a virtual format while schools in Grand Bahama and other Family Islands will offer face-to-face classes.
He said the delay allows the ministry and parents/care-givers the opportunity to secure the needed devices for the full participation of all involved in the teaching and learning process.
“There is also a need to complete installation of the adequate level of internet service needed for connectivity to the department’s virtual platform for thousands of students who will now remain at home in both the public and the private education sectors,” he said.
The government said, furthermore, fulfilling its commitment to the United Nations goal of providing quality and inclusive education for all, the MOE will be providing for students who will not have access to devices and internet connectivity and those who are without electricity in their homes, resource instructional packages to be collected from the respective schools by their parents. The packages will be returned to schools for grading by teachers on a weekly basis.
The MOE recognises that online learning is new for many parents and may result in logistical challenges while both parents work away from home.
“We recognise that our schools provide critical support services that will allow parents to return to work with a greater peace of mind, knowing that their children are in a safe environment. While our schools owe a duty of care to its students and have been carrying that out, we are also aware that that duty of care transfers over to parents once our students have left our campuses,” said Lloyd.
“The reality is that, due to COVID-19, parents are now faced with having to oversee the instructional responsibility of their children, and due to persistent health concerns on some islands, duty of care will continue to rest upon the shoulders of our parents for a much greater period of time.”
Public libraries will be equipped with the necessary health and safety protocols to provide an alternative study space for students to access remote learning.
Additionally, the MOE is collaborating with churches and civic organisations to consider giving aid to parents and providing a safe space for the children of their congregations and those in the surrounding communities to safely meet and access the online learning platform.
MOE director, Marcellus Taylor, appealed to churches, non-governmental agencies, and civic groups for their support.
“We know that some people will have challenges. We have to be in this as a community. We have to see this as a problem that we will collectively solve. The state is doing its part in the ways that it can. Families, communities, friends, we have to all come together to support where there may be cases.
“Employers, to the extent that they can, should consider some levels of flexibility around working arrangements or allowing children to come along with their parents if those things are possible, along with any other program such as what the government may put on through Urban Renewal, churches, etc.
“We want to be clear that people have to exercise some personal responsibility and we have to support one another on an individual, familial and community level,” he added.