Rhianna Mc Kenzie
After two years of online learning because of covid19 restrictions, students at every level will be allowed back into the physical classroom in the third term of the school year, beginning April 19, the Ministry of Education has announced.
On Monday, at a news conference at the ministry in Port of Spain, Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said there are only six countries globally which have kept schools fully closed.
“Trinidad and Tobago has used a careful and measured approach to school reopening and, based on advice from the (health) ministry, the government has taken the decision to fully reopen.”
A statement from the Education Ministry on Monday said students at the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), primary, secondary, tertiary level will join their classmates already in the physical classroom in April.
Gadsby-Dolly said all sporting and extracurricular activities and the School Feeding Programme will resume.
Since all students are required to be in the physical classroom, teachers will not be mandated to provide online teaching, and the rotational schedules for face-to-face classes will cease.
In September 2021, the ministry began the phased reopening of schools with vaccinated upper school students (forms four-six) being allowed back into the physical environment to prepare for Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exams.
Two weeks later, the ministry announced unvaccinated students would be allowed to return to schools, and in February lower form students were also allowed back into the classroom.
Gadsby-Dolly said the ministry sought the input of stakeholders, including the Division of Education, Research and Technology of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), denominational boards, associations of primary and secondary schools, and the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA).
She said the TT Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) was unable to meet with the ministry on the scheduled dates, but the union is communicating with the minister and a meeting to discuss optional recommendations is imminent.
Gadsby-Dolly said entry protocols such as handwashing, sanitising, mandatory mask wearing – except for ECCE students – will continue to be mandatory, in keeping with the Ministry of Health’s recommendations.
She said schools will also continue to announce the protocols over the public address systems to remind students daily of their responsibilities.
“Students are being reminded to keep their personal space. We are asking parents to encourage students and remind them how to live safely in the pandemic, not necessarily just in the school environment but this is how they will have to live safely in the pandemic as the country is reopening.”
The ministry also said special attention will be given to mitigate learning loss. Director of the Curriculum Division Anna Singh said optimal learning guidelines for both primary and secondary schools elaborate on how to diagnose learning gaps or deficiencies, and adapt the curriculum to ensure the minimum outcomes at each level.
“Recommendations to both teachers and parents, derived from the national diagnostics conductive for math and English language arts with both primary and secondary students, have been disseminated through social media and our website.”
Singh said the division has provided support for online learning as well as instructional materials for students, including videos, radio and TV broadcasts, to support teachers in the online environment.
“As we progressed, we had an adapted optimal learning guideline which emphasised the minimum outcome for every level subject from infant one to form three. CXC is responsible for the syllabus for forms four-six.
“No curriculum has been contracted or reduced. We supported our students and teachers to be able to cover the minimum outcomes knowing that in different circumstances more coverage can be accomplished.”
Carol Bhagwandin, ECCE director at the ministry, also said ECCE-level students were also supported with developmentally-appropriate activities.
She said ECCE activity packs were distributed on a weekly basis for parents and guardians to continue working with students.
“At ECCE level, children learn through active engagement and involvement. We know they are very resilient and, as such, the activities provided – activity pack, radio programmes, YouTube channel – ensured the continued learning and development during this time.”
Minister in the ministry Lisa Morris-Julian also said back to school orientation is planned for staff, parents, and children to reinforce the safety protocols, with staff sessions beginning April 1 and sessions for parents during April 11-14 before the reopening.
She said all centres have been visited to ensure the installation of sanitisation stations at all centres, and repairs are ongoing at all centres to ensure the safe return for students and staff.
Morris-Julian also said a bubble approach will be used in the centres.
“The same group of children and staff will be together in the centre, and their interaction with other bubbles will be restricted as much as possible. Materials and spaces will be labelled to maintain bubble approach.”