Daily temperature checks are to be done by teachers at the start of each school day and the data recorded when school reopens for face-to-face learning for all students on Aug. 31, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister of Education, Jimmy Prince, further told Parliament on Thursday, that the use of masks and face shields is strongly recommended for all persons — including students — on public transportation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Moreover, students will also be advised to wear appropriate face coverings while in public spaces during school hours,” Prince said, adding that the Ministry of Education continues to be guided by the experts within the Ministry of Health, and has accepted the recommendations for the reopening of schools for all students for the new school year.
“The hygiene and hand washing protocols instituted during the reopening of schools in May, for the students who are doing external examinations and those from grade 5 who returned to school in June will be strictly adhered to. Those protocols worked and we continue to use them, “ Prince said.
In was responding to a question from opposition lawmaker Terrance Ollivierre, Prince said that the current status of COVID-19 in SVG forms the backdrop to the reopening of educational institutions.
Prince said that there is no community spread of the viral illness and all active cases were imported.
“There’s a well-managed quarantine and contact tracing system in the country — very well managed. And we have a capacity for rapid in-country testing, and on-going testing and surveillance to detect any other exposure not related to travel. That’s the background,” Prince said.
Ollivierre, who is the opposition shadow minister for education issues, had asked the education minister to tell Parliament if all dates and schedules been set and confirmed for the new school year 2020 – 2021 and if so, what are these dates and schedules.
He also wanted to know what the conditions are under which teachers and students are to return to the classrooms for the new school year,
Ollivierre further asked the minister to say what measurers are implemented to adequately prepare and place all educational institutions in a state of readiness to meet the conditions as set out above for the new school year; and how are teachers being prepared to deal with these conditions.
Prince said Teachers Professional Development Week will run from Aug. 17 to 21.
The midterm break will be Oct. 26 to 30 and the first term ends on Dec. 11.
Student will return to the classroom for term 2 on Jan. 4, 2021, and that term ends on March 26.
The third term commenced on April 13, and the school year is expected to end on July 2, the education minister told lawmakers.
“Of course, Mr. Speaker, these dates are subject to change based on the situation at the time. We continue to live with COVID and, therefore, we have to be cognisant of what may happen in the future.”
Regarding the conditions under which teachers and students are to return to the classroom, Prince said that based on the current status of COVID-19 in SVG, hygiene is to be observed, and hand washing stations and hand sanitizers are to be placed in appropriate areas.
Prince said his ministry closed schools on March 20, one week before the conclusion of the second term for the academic year 2019-2020 “due to the hysteria regarding the COVID-19 pandemic”.
He said that during this closure, an assessment team comprising members from the ministries of education and health, NEMO, and BRAGSA visited the schools.
“Visits were also done by a team from the Educational Advisory Board, who presented a draft report.”
The minister said that after much consideration and a thorough assessment of the school plans by the teams and meetings with relevant stakeholders, the decision was taken to reopen schools on May 25 for students preparing for all external examinations.
“The reopening occurred with a number of interventions in place — cleaning and sanitization of schools; installation of additional hand wash stations at some schools; washrooms in some schools were repaired and retrofitted. COVID-19 protocols and a standard operating procedures policy document was prepared and distributed to all principals; posters promoting proper hand washing and other COVID-19 safety protocols were placed at strategic points at schools.
“Each school was provided with extra cleaning supplies and safety supplies including face masks, gloves, hand sanitizing liquids, soaps, etc.
“A cleaning checklist was prepared and shared with cleaners and principals and signed weekly as cleaning was completed. Revised job descriptions for cleaners were prepared to gain compliance with the required cleaning standards consistent with the management of COVID-19,” he said.
The education minister said there was scheduled training with cleaning staff, information on the proper use of cleaning supplies was also provided, and caretakers and janitors were stationed at schools to ensure that the facilities were cleaned and properly sanitised regularly.
“A clean environment is considered as one of the means of controlling the spread of COVID-19, hence the Ministry of Education will continue to employ preventative strategies to aid in the management of COVID-19 during the upcoming school year and we will leave nothing to chance.”
PPE purchased for new school year
He said that the government has purchased additional cleaning supplies and other resources including personal protective equipment (PPE) for the upcoming school term.
“All schools will be provided with the necessary cleaning supplies, hand sanitising liquids, soaps and other resources to maintain health and safety at their schools,” Prince said, adding that preschools and day-cares will also be provided with resources to institute measures similar to those approved for government educational institutions.
“Everybody in the in the education system, formal or informal, private sector or public sector will be taken care of under this programme — all,” Prince told Parliament.
He said that schools are provided with non-touch thermometers to perform the necessary temperature checks.
Extra cleaning staff will be employed for the new academic year to ensure that all schools have adequate personnel to share the cleaning responsibilities and schools will also receive the revised version of the protocols and standard operating procedures policy document in relation to COVID-19.
“It is expected that the necessary protocols to ensure our students’ safety at schools will not be compromised. For the new school year, schools are expected to continue developing their COVID action plan to cater for any eventuality and to continue their online learning preparations and readiness,” Prince said.
Support, resources for remedial teaching
He said that his ministry continues to support teachers by providing them with the resources and the professional development training necessary to function in the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Teachers will be provided with support and resources necessary to ensure that they can provide the much-needed remedial teaching, especially for those students who are not engaged in the online teaching during closure,” he said.
“Counsellors at the various schools will be available to provide psychosocial support to both teachers and students returning to schools — an absolutely important element in this.
“Principals will work with their schools’ counsellors to ensure that the teachers who will need on-going psychosocial support are provided with the necessary help. Teachers will continue to be sensitised on the various protocols to be followed to maintain a safe and healthy school environment.”
The education minister said that the session will include training on how to conduct temperature checks, using the non-touch thermometer, the recording of these readings and their response to any elevated temperatures. The training will be conducted in conjunction with the Ministry of Health. As I speak, the Ministry of Health is organising training with clusters of schools throughout St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“We will maintain a learning environment for all teachers and students to function effectively. We will follow the science to support all of our teachers and students returning to school goal to continue face-to-face instructions,” Prince told lawmakers.
He said his ministry will “continue to balance the pursuance of safety with a need for effective teaching and learning in all our schools, our core interests, our core business is learning, teaching and learning.
“And, it bears mentioning, though, that this approach mainly resulted in our 86% pass rate at the CPEA in 2020, despite all these problems that we had, because 86.16 percentage pass as CPA — just about a percentage [point] lower than the previous year.