As I read of the desperate measures being taken by some parents towards ensuring their children are receiving an education during this pandemic. I cannot help thinking that not enough is being done by the Government to ensure that our nation’s children are not left behind. In a recent visit to a local Internet cafe, I observed two young children with their school books, an earplug sitting in this small crowded retail shop trying to do online schooling on the computer; this was when I realized the seriousness of this situation.
While I try to put this from my mind, today’s headline “Online Schooling by the Roadside” (Gleaner, October 21) further sent reminders that I need to share my concern with Jamaicans and support f the cry of these parents in their desperate need. I trust that will help bring more attention to their plight to return some normality element to educating our children.
I also ponder the continuation of the policy that keeps all schools across our island closed. The continued lack of traditional teaching in traditional classrooms, coupled with the lack of resources to reach the masses, particularly those in rural areas, must be returned to normalcy. Special consideration should be given to those with special needs, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds should be urgently reviewed. Already there has been concern regarding learning capacity and the health nutrition impact on our children depending on their socio-economic background. (Clarke et.al,1991).
While I understand our country’s challenges from this global pandemic, we have found ways to reopen our international borders, and all but few industries have remained closed. The Ministry of education had promised the reopening of our schools for this school term; however, this has not happened with the recent announcement and protocol, which has prohibited all schools from reopening. Instead, classes are being held online.
Jamaica should best adopt the protocol of other countries to make efforts to return to classroom education, recognizing the important role of traditional learning on our children’s mental health and well-being.
Indeed, Jamaica boasts some of the most committed teachers. Our children are quick learners; whether they choose the arts, sciences, technology, or even the apprenticeship programs, they have done well. Therefore, we must find ways to combine virtual learning with classroom education. Through innovative ways, the Government needs to demonstrate the practical implementation of the policy “No child left behind,” where all schools are allowed to assess and have protocols around the safe return of children to traditional classroom learning.
There are other reasons children must return to the traditional classroom; for example, the impending health risk from all day online virtual learning and the dangers of occupational injury/ illnesses from the computer should not be ignored. These include Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Computer Vision Syndrome, Musculoskeletal problems, eye strain, and possible hearing problems should not be ignored.
The daily rise in COVID-19 cases on the island (over 8,000) does not give us hope for an early ending for our children’s normal return to school in the “New Normal” setting. I implore the Government to consider, at a minimum, the blended approach to learning as well as embarking on an education program for parents and children to reduce the risk and number of NCDs (Noncommunicable diseases) on this and future generation.
While I do share the fear of our teachers not returning to the classroom at this time due to themselves being in the high-risk groups and the concern of parents who may have children similarly challenged, there should not be a blanket approach for all schools. Still, each should be given the flexibility in a democratic society to exercise care and ensure the relevant protocols are in place. The Government must find the resource in their budget similar to other areas to ensure public sector schools comply with hygiene standards for COVID-19 protocol. After all, we are told we have to learn to live with this disease.
Recent data by the Ministry of Health (2018) show that majority (7 out of 10) Jamaicans in 2015 have died from the four major NCDs, e.g., Cancer, Cardiovascular, Diabetes, and Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease. Therefore, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has an important role to play with regards to health promotion, particularly during this pandemic, when the majority are encouraged to work from home, and our children no longer are walking to school or encouraged to participate actively in sports as part of the daily routine.
Therefore, I urge the Ministry of Education to employ a mixed approach to our children’s education during this pandemic to ensure that their health and safety are not further compromised through the recent change in our education protocol. The Ministry could embark on an island-wide risk assessment of our school’s status to reopen, offering a phased approach to classroom learning, which is critical to our Jamaican children’s healthy well-being and safety.
Marva Hewitt, MCIEH, Ph.D. (Pending)
Food Hygiene Burea