Plans for the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 academic year remain in place even after Dominica recorded two new active Covid-19 cases.
Education Minister, Octavia Alfred, who was speaking as a guest on the Prime Minister’s Anou Palay programme on the weekend, said teachers will spend the first two weeks to assess the students.
Just last week, the minister announced during the “Education in Action” programme on DBS Radio that schools will reopen on September 1st for teachers and September 7th for students.
“I am expecting people [teachers] to spend the first two weeks to assess the students,” she said. “This is important because if our status changes as it pertains to COVID and we have to go back to, let’s say online learning, teachers need to know where their students are.”
“We need to test the students, assess them and to put remedial programs in place even if we have to move forward face-to-face, online or a blended approach; we need that,” Alfred stated.
Additionally, Alfred said face-to-face is important because children need to be assessed in terms of their psychosocial behaviour.
“We need to have our students together so that they can debrief and share, and see friends and do other activities and while they are doing that our teachers will observe what we need to do even if we stay in school face-to-face or even if we have to go on a blended approach, some in and some out and even if all of us out we need that information,” she explained.
Alfred is hoping as she puts it, that “we can squeeze in some face-to-face. Let’s go step-by-step and ask the parents to trust the process because we have everything in place to make sure the children are safe.”
The minister added, “We need to do that for the sake of our teachers, but more so for the sake of our children.”
Meantime, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Chandler Hyacinth, said protocols have been put in place to minimize the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic in the various schools on the island.
“We have already done some training with our cleaners; we will continue to do the training as we are procuring certain disinfectants. Some of the providers are going to facilitate us in doing the training for our cleaners in how do we prepare our schools,” she said. “Certainly, what we want to do is to minimize the risk and to provide the support for protection for our staff, our teachers and our students.”
Hyacinth said students will also be encouraged to practice social distancing.
“Especially for the larger schools, one of the major larger ones is the St Martin School which is 600 plus,” she noted. “For that school, it may mean different accommodations for that school so that social distancing can work, but as we said already most of our schools are less than 100 students…”
Hygiene wardens will be needed to assist with the sanitizing, the PS added, “to monitor the students in the washrooms during play, to monitor the social distancing.”
Students will also be encouraged to wear face masks.
“We have detailed that in the guidelines and in our handbook, wearing masks on your way to school and when you leave school, during break time but we would expect that during the classroom setting, that we will relax; we will have the physical distancing so that we can relax the mask-wearing in the classroom,” she explained.
Assistant Chief Education Officer, Dr. Jeffrey Blaize said last week that the Ministry of Education had developed guidelines and protocols for the school year “for the experience during COVID and beyond” and that hopefully by this week, the guidelines would be within circulation.
In addition to the established protocols, two other measures which were mentioned at the time are the provision of more single tables to ensure that students can sit by themselves and special washroom facilities for physically-challenged children.