Jamaica’s ministry of education is preparing to return students to face-to-face learning on a phased basis as the COVID-19 infection rate slows on the island.
At a virtual press conference, the Minister of Education, Fayval Williams announced that under a pilot programme, 17 schools in nine parishes, will resume face-to-face classes from November 9 to 20. Twelve of the schools are at the primary level and five at the secondary level.
Parishes for the face-to-face pilot are Clarendon, Manchester, Portland, St Ann, St Elizabeth, St James, Westmoreland, St Thomas and Trelawny. Williams, however, did not disclose the names of the schools and also stated that online, audio-visual, and printed material will continue to be available for all schools.
The ministry of education had earlier hinted at the possibility of reopening physical schools, given the massive digital divide which has caused more than half of the country’s students to encounter difficulties in accessing online classes. The ministry stated that the key criterion would be for communities surrounding schools to have a low COVID-19 infection rate.
Two weeks ago, the island’s national Epidemiologist, Dr. Karen Webster-Kerr, said that health officials were seeing “some amount of slowing down” in the daily recorded number of coronavirus cases.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Health and Wellness Minister, Dr. Christopher Tufton also said that the COVID-19 curve was “flattening out” and the ministry was seeing “encouraging signs of fewer cases per day.” Tufton said the COVID-19 positivity rate has moved from 30% at its highest point, now down to between 8% and 14% this week.
The combined total of students that will return to school from the 17 institutions is almost 6,000. Minister Williams said the COVID-19 protocols will be strictly enforced at the schools.
All students must wear a mask, and schools are forbidden from turning back students who are not wearing masks bearing school colours or insignia.
“The important thing is that students show up in masks, and if a student does not show up in a mask, one should be provided,” said the education minister.
As of October 28, Jamaica reported 8,851 COVID-19 cases. The total active cases were 4,126 and recoveries stood at 4,347, while coronavirus deaths have climbed to 198.