Arguing that even a short period of face-to-face learning will be beneficial to students, the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) says the opportunity should be taken now to try to bridge the learning loss, provided that schools are properly resourced for the safety of all who will be returning to the classroom.
The education ministry advised on Wednesday that primary and secondary schools are to resume face-to-face classes on Monday, January 3, with certain conditions, including a satisfactory health inspection and COVID-19-compliant approval report from the health ministry.
Head of the JTA, Winston Smith, told the Jamaica Observer that, “unless we are directed by the Ministry of Health and Wellness not to open, I believe we should capitalise on any opportunity, even if it’s for a week or a month, because we have suffered for a long while now. Our students are at a disadvantage in comparison to where they ought to have been academically, and any opportunity that we can provide for the students to learn as much as possible, knowing that the online modality is not working very well because of challenges beyond our control, face-to-face is the best method at this time”.He noted that up to mid-December, about 76 per cent of teachers were either partially or fully vaccinated.
The education ministry said all individuals working in the school environment need to be vaccinated, as they are expected to turn up for work once the students are scheduled to be in in classes.
Smith said his main concern at this time is adequate funding being made available to the education ministry to facilitate the safety and security of teachers, students, and support staff in every school for face-to-face engagement.
He said that despite the threat of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, the ministries of education and health should provide schools with the resources to make sure that they are able to track and access everyone entering school compounds.
The JTA president said any opportunity for face-to-face learning should be capitalised on, in the event that the country is forced to return to shutdown mode. He also stressed that teachers should be equipped with proper working laptops, which will become necessary for any potential full return to online learning.
Smith also urged the finance ministry to make funds available to teachers to offset the cost of Internet connection to carry out their duties from home when needed.
He said parents, too, particularly those on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), need greater support with the purchase of data, to ensure that their children can effectively participate in the process.
Administered by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, PATH is the Government’s social assistance programme that currently provides cash grants to approximately 350,000 beneficiaries.
Smith stressed that plans must be put in place to help the education system recover, even in the face of the pandemic, but this will require significant expenditure.
At the same time, he called on Government to complete payments to teachers who have not yet been compensated for work done during the summer period.
“I get to understand that there are still a few teachers who have not received their normal run of the mill salary; every single teacher should be paid in full, all moneys owed to them, so that we can start the new term without any hiccups,” the JTA president emphasised.