Plans for students to return to full-time in-person instruction in Barbados have been delayed to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
In December, Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw has announced that students would be heading back to the classrooms for regular instruction. But amid the recent spike in coronavirus cases which led to a two-week extension of the Christmas vacation, Minister Bradshaw announced that the second term of the 2020-2021 academic year will begin next Monday, with classes being taught online.
The virtual classes are being conducted as authorities seek to bring the COVID-19 outbreak, said to be triggered by a Boxing Day super spreader event, under control.
“Since the Prime Minister would’ve made her announcement that schools were not going back into the physical form until after the 14th [of January] … we’ve been spending a lot of time in the Ministry of Education relooking the plans for reopening of school, whether in a full format or obviously in this case, virtual format.
“And, of course, we leaned towards online classes at this point in time, simply because we recognize that from the Ministry of Health’s perspective it’s important that we take time to make sure that the country gets a handle on these cases,” she explained, noting that consultations were held with teachers and other stakeholders on the way forward.
Minister Bradshaw also gave the assurance that the Ministry was working to ensure every student had access to a device.
She revealed that over 8,680 students had received devices during Term One, which was also disrupted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, there was a blended approach to teaching, as there was a mix of face-to-face and online classes at some schools, while others were able to continue within the classroom setting.
“We’ve compiled the majority of that data [and] we’ve estimated that we have between 4,000 and 5,000 kids, who may still not have electricity or [internet] connectivity at their respective homes, and the Government has made a decision, in the interim, to be able to proceed to purchase those devices on behalf of those students, so that we can ensure we can start school on the 18th of this month,” the Education Minister explained.
She added that Government was still aggressively working to finalize an arrangement with the Government of Kenya to obtain 21,000 devices.
Bradshaw also reported that efforts were underway to help students with special needs transition to virtual learning.
Meanwhile, she praised teachers for their cooperation, noting that they had been undergoing the necessary retraining and retooling in preparation for the virtual classes.
She added this would be an ongoing exercise as “it is nothing that you can learn within a matter of a couple of days”.
Acknowledging that the pandemic has been taxing socially, economically and psychologically on persons, Minister Bradshaw reassured that Government was doing everything possible to provide children with an education, with the support of teachers, parents and other stakeholders within the sector.