Jamaica, much like the tri-county area of South Florida, is currently battling with the almost impossible decision on whether of not to reopen schools in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently, the newly-appointed Minister of Education, Fayval Williams announced that children are to return to school on a phased basis beginning October 5, based on a vulnerability index and risk ranking measure.
The plan involves varied approaches, including full face-to-face class engagement; a hybrid scenario (that is, face-to-face and remote learning); and full remote learning based on a number of factors including deemed high and low-risk areas of the virus.
While Minister Williams said her ministry is ensuring that students and staff have a safe return to school, school administrators on the island have already indicated that they are against face-to-face classes.
Following the announcement, the Preisdent of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (JAPSS) Linvern Wright said that his association is opposed to the approach. “The formula for selective reopening is flawed given that Jamaica is an interconnected country. We have no faith in the formula grounded in geoinformatics and believe that using such a formula is ill-advised,” Wright said.
Similarly, the President of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) Jasford Gabriel, said it is too complicated to reopen schools at this time.
“We think that the risk factor is far, far greater than if we were to continue online. We watch what is happening with the rising cases with the pandemic,” Gabriel said.
Like some counties in Florida, the remote learning option poses the massive problem of students and families’ access to technology and the internet. In 2017, 33% of students in the Kingston Metropolitan Area and 45% in rural areas of Jamaica did not have access to the internet.
And although Jamaica’s Ministry of Education has committed to bridging the digital divide, with the procurement of tablets to students and internet access in schools, many students, especially those living in rural areas still have trouble accessing online classes.
Contrastingly, the reopening of face-to-face classes presents a public health problem. Currently, the island is in the midst of the second wave of COVID-19 which is proving to be more deadly than the first. Overall deaths have doubled in the past two weeks, moving from 42 on September 13 to 75 as of September 22.
Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton has predicted that the island won’t reach the peak of the second wave until November.
The decision is now ultimately left up to parents on whether or not they will choose send their children to school.