Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday says that Education Minister Curtis King must say how students are to return to the classroom safely on April 12.
Students are scheduled to return to the physical classroom on April 12 for the first time this year, following an uptick in COVID-19 cases late December.
The number of active cases has since fallen dramatically, standing at 141 on Saturday, down from a high of over 1,000 a few weeks ago.
Speaking at a New Democratic Party press conference, Friday noted the discussions about the reopening of schools.
He said that it is important that students return to the classroom, but this should only be done if it is safe to do so.
“The current upsurge in COVID-19 cases here and the death of 10 people have understandably caused great pause among our people, [causes] fears; and people have retreated,” he said.
He said that most people have responded by taking and continuing to take the necessary measures to protect themselves and others, especially the wearing of face masks.
“This is what I understand the teachers — who are the ones who deliver the programme, and they know what their students are missing out on — to be saying.
“We must also reflect on how they are going to make up for the lost time.”
He noted that Southern Grenadines MP Terrance Ollivierre, the opposition spokesperson on education matters, raised at this month’s meeting of Parliament the issue of making up for time lost as a result of the pandemic.
“With young people, where you are building the foundation at primary school, you don’t say, well, ‘Them things past, we done leave those subjects behind, let’s move on to something else’, because the one builds upon the other, so we have to have the foundation properly laid, so we have to go back and lay that foundation now or when we can do so, the soonest we can do so,” Friday said.
He said that the education minister has to have a plan as to how lost time is going to be made up for.
“It can’t just be simply that we move forward again as quickly as possible to get to where we should be in the third term of the secondary school or the primary school.”
He said he thinks that the impact is greatest on primary school “because when you build a foundation, if it is not solid, everything else it’s built upon, it becomes jeopardised. So we have to look at this very seriously.”
He said that the online classes in which students were engaged was a heroic effort by many teachers, especially those who teach younger children.
He said parents were also heroic as many of them had to become like substitute teachers to help their child.
“I see it and I applaud you for it because you want the best for your children, but this will only come when you feel safe enough to go back. And I hope that that is very soon,” Friday said.
“But there are things that we need to do to get there. The ministry has to show us, it has to articulate a vision as to how we go forward and put a plan in place to do it. Not float ideas out there and see how eople respond to them and then they make a sort of hurry-hurry decision,” the opposition leader said, adding that there are examples all over the world from which the country can learn.
Meanwhile, responding in Parliament to Ollivierre’s question about the protocols that have been put in place to prepare teachers and students to safely return to school, King said:
“Now the protocols are being updated in preparation for the return to school,” noting that the ministry had asked teachers to return to school from March 17 to 19 for professional development sessions “to begin their preparatory work for the impending reopening of school on April 12”.
The education minister said that officials had “concluded the process of sensitising our teachers on the COVID-19 vaccines and we are confident that the government has provided a vaccine and thus, we are asking all teachers to take the vaccine.”
He said that the vaccine is not mandatory.