By The Education Revolutionist
No doubt, every stakeholder in education in this country is wondering whether the reopening of school should go ahead or should be postponed, given the continuing revelations of new COVID-19 cases among citizens.
We all remember that the last school term ended one week earlier than scheduled after a rather one-sided debate between educational institutions and the leader whom the parents of many students had voted for five years ago. If you had been able to follow the live stream of that culminating “emergency meeting” (held a whole five days after that late night press conference declaring the first case of COVID-19 in SVG), you would be aware that the country’s leader was not in favour of closing schools early at all, nor was he agreeable to send the necessary sanitising liquids to the schools. In fact, it was rather sarcastically implied that to do so would give teachers the opportunity to take such liquids to their homes. In other words, the teachers would steal them.
Is this the attitude and level of respect which educators and classroom professionals deserve from the head of their country, who is, in many cases, their employer?
It has been made clear by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other affiliated bodies that the chief tool to be used as a self defence strategy against contracting COVID-19 is sufficient water to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. Of course, sanitisers or other suitably qualified liquids may be substituted in lieu of soap. Given the ominous implications that the presence of COVID-19 is manifesting to us, we cannot as a Vincentian people just accept an official announcement that school is to be reopened on the usual date and live as though it is life as usual.
Parents, do you know if and how your children have been getting their hands washed during the last school term? Are you aware that your child’s school might be one where some bathrooms or pipes may not be working? Do you care that the limited soap or cleaning liquids that might have been at your child’s school was likely bought with the personal money of teachers or the school’s principal? Parents and guardians, do you care, that in the new era of COVID-19, your child’s school furniture and other surfaces with which they must interact, may not be cleaned or sanitise on a regular basis, simply because the teachers and school administration cannot afford to keep spending their own pocket money to keep the school plant healthy enough for your irreplaceable children?
This is a call to all parents and guardians. Just as the Ministry of Education listens to you when you make complaints about something you found upsetting at your child’s school, so, now too, they must listen to you as you enquire of them about the provision of water and disinfecting products for your child’s school on a daily basis. If adults find it hard to keep their hands from their faces, how much harder do you think it will be for young, energetic children to avoid touching their faces during the school day?
During this upcoming week, all responsible PTA executives should be talking with the education officials to secure proactive actions that will result in cleaning supplies being made available on the compound of every pre-school, every primary school, and every tertiary level learning institution. Already, all citizens in SVG are finding out the hard way that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Years ago, our health officials here in St. Vincent would caution against accepting the number of confirmed HIV/AIDS cases. They would say, time and time again, that for every one person who is known to have tested positive for HIV/AIDS there were at least 10 other unknown cases walking around in the country.
The same must be held true as regards COVID-19. For a long time, we had only one confirmed case. Then we were told that that person no longer had the virus. Then immediately the country was informed via a prepared statement that the SVG was indeed coronavirus free. Then we were told of a second confirmed case, detected under very scary situations befitting a Hollywood horror movie. Now, we have been informed of a third confirmed case.
(Editor’s note: Four additional cases were confirmed since this article was submitted, taking the total to seven.)
Parents and guardians, teachers, school attendants, van drivers, and all who must interact with school children, are you really going to accept that it is entirely safe to send back the nations children (SVG’s future) to school in this uncertain and potentially life-threatening environment? The world continues to hear of instances where young people, including healthy children, are getting sick with COVID-19. Some of these previously healthy individuals have even died. It was scientifically shown in Kenya that one infected person caused thousands of innocent citizens to become infected.
Will Vincentian citizens allow the same to be said of St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
Another important factor to consider in all of this is the application of social distancing in our classrooms. Van drivers are being asked to carry fewer passengers. Churches are being asked to house only an amount that facilitate the sitting of persons three feet apart in the congregation. The million dollar question is: How many of our classrooms (and in some cases staffrooms) can accommodate students and teachers sitting at least three feet from each other?
There needs to be a definitive assurance, seen and reported in our media, that if schools are to reopen, a sufficient supply of water and cleaning agents are present on each school compound. This is not the time for mere expedient political strategizing. This is a time to recognize and understand that COVID-19 is a world killer.
This is a matter of life and death for the nation’s children and educators.
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