Statement by Dr. the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley
Minister of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture
at the Fifth Sitting of the Third Session of the Fourth House of Assembly
held on Thursday 31st December, 2020
Education Update 2020/2021
Mister Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to share in this Honourable House and with the entire community, updates on the progress in schools since the start of the 2020/2021 school year and plans for the upcoming term. All schools started the first term in September fully online due to the rapid cluster spread of the corona virus during the month of August. However, due to the curtailing of the virus and basically having no known cases by the month of October, Cabinet made a decision at a Special Sitting on the 19th October that all schools be granted permission to be opened in a phased approach. This was conditional on preparations being made to adhere to the established health and social distancing guidelines in place by the Ministry of Health and that approval was granted by the Environmental Health’s task force.
Mister Speaker, I am pleased to inform this House that classes were conducted on the majority of campuses for all schools utilizing the phased approach. In the cases of schools with small numbers such as Claudia Creque and Jost Van Dyke Primary, they were able to have all students attend classes daily on campus. Other schools implemented the hybrid/blended learning approach where students received in class instruction as well as online throughout the week. For the latter part of the last term, Kindergarten to Grade 6 and Grades 10 – 12 were facilitated. Due to major infrastructural issues at the Ivan Dawson Primary School, classes continued online for the duration of the school term.
Mister Speaker, I am pleased to inform this House that the schools that were reopened complied with the health requirements and they were all successful at meeting the inspection requirements. For this I applaud the Ministry’s maintenance team and school principals for their diligence and commitment to getting the schools ready for inspection and subsequently receiving certificates of approval from the Environmental Health Unit.
As the schools implemented the phased approach to return to schools, Mister Speaker, principals coordinated the on campus classes to ensure adherence to the six-feet social distancing requirement and hygiene protocols. Extra wash stations for the washing of hands were installed at all schools and classrooms were equipped with sanitization stations for students. There was a control of visitors to the campus and the wearing of masks or face shields was practiced. This meant that based on space availability and varying classroom sizes, students were assigned on campus sessions for some days in the week and online instructions on the other days. Although this proved a bit challenging initially for parents, teachers and students, they quickly adjusted to the new normal pattern of school attendance.
Mister Speaker, the implementation of collaborative planning teams ensured parity across the system in all subjects and by grades. These teams comprising of teachers in grade levels and by subjects ensured that lessons and assessments were common across the board by subjects and by grades. This format proved to be beneficial to ensuring the covering of content and where adjustments had to be made based on existing constraints for instruction. Mister Speaker the final assessments for the term for all primary school students were administered during classes on campus so that there was adequate monitoring and supervision. For secondary schools, there was a variation of testing measures employed such as controlled time and tests with time-limits as well as variation of the same tests administered to students within the same class. In some instances, individual oral presentations were used, having students make on-the-spot presentations before camera. For the practical areas, there were set tasks assigned that would have illustrated the students’ mastery of the concepts taught.
I must say, Mister Speaker, I am incredibly impressed with how parents, administrators, teachers, support staff, and students have adapted to a challenging situation in the schools with a non-traditional format. We have demonstrated our resilience in implementing creative pedagogical approaches. We will continue to identify any deficiencies and strengthen our delivery to our students, so that we can maximize students’ learning.
Mister Speaker, the infrastructural works have been on-going at the Bregado Flax Educational Centre. As a result of the construction, the number of students on the campuses for both the primary and secondary division have been limited to the technical students, special education and marginalized groups. We hope to have this project completed early next year, 2021. For the Ivan Dawson Primary School, infrastructural works and campus cleaning should begin shortly and this should alleviate the issues of unhealthy air quality and mold build up that is especially high at this school. In the meantime, in order to ensure that students have some classroom instructional time, the Ministry is seeking the use of the Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church hall for classes for the upcoming term. With the additional funding allocated in the 2021 budget for maintenance, we hope to alleviate a series of infrastructural issues in all schools and offer an improved physical plant for schools over the year. I am aware that this process will take time to get it done right, so I call on the parents and the wider community to exercise some patience as the work is being done. School principals will communicate with the parents of respective schools if any infrastructural work will have an impact on the school day.
Mister Speaker, as I mentioned the upcoming term, let me turn my attention to giving some information on this. Schools will open on Monday 4th January and will continue, for the most part, utilizing the hybrid/blended learning approach. Individual schools have made some slight adjustments to scheduling of contact hours to better accommodate students. Parents should expect communication on the adjustments from the school principals. For the majority, there have been no adjustments. Let me mention the Elmore Stoutt Junior High School. Classes will be held online for the first week of 4th to 8th January. By the second week, students will be given a schedule for on campus contact sessions. This information will be communicated to parents via email. Parents are asked to check emails for the schedules. The junior school population is currently 779 students, so because of the numbers and the on campus requirements for social distancing, students will still have the majority of classes online. Contact hours with students on campus will be used to cover content in Math, English and technical subjects. The schedule for the Elmore Stoutt High School senior students remains as it was for the Advent term.
The struggle for adequate internet coverage in schools continues, but I am pleased to say that some progress was made over the last term in the build out of the internet infrastructure that should address the coverage on campus. During the course of this term, the mounting of promethean boards in schools will continue. This will help with the delivery of the lessons, accommodating students in class as well as those online. Partnering with the Department of Information Technology (DoIt), plans are on stream to further equip schools to assist internet coverage on campus.
Mister Speaker, we have had significant improvement in the number of students with devices for use. We were able to address the shortage of digital textbooks (VIDES) for grades seven to nine students by allowing students to access the application via their personal laptops. Where possible, we saw a number of parents purchasing or loaning devices for the students to use. We received the laptops that were purchased through the Government’s stimulus package and these were made available for the students to use through the loan programme. Also, over the last term, students were gifted with devices by private businesses and non-profit organisations. I must say, Mister Speaker, the public/private partnership has been extremely good and I take the opportunity to thank our private businesses and organisations for their tangible contributions to education.
This term, Mister Speaker, in an effort to regularise the activities of the school year to some sense of normalcy, the secondary school debates and school sporting activities will be conducted. Education Week will be held from the 7th to 13th March during which the special features will be the annual inter secondary school debate finals, inter primary school sports and the Early Childhood Book Parade.
For the staff, training will continue. Professional development for teachers is scheduled for 11th February where staff and faculty will be engaged in workshops by subject and grade. Sessions will also be held for the support staff in areas that will improve their delivery of the services they offer that impact the daily administration of education.
We are looking forward to a productive second term. Mister Speaker, I express thanks to the Acting Chief Education Officer and her staff at the Ministry, principals and staff in all schools, the maintenance team, parents for their commitment and hard work. We continue to strive to offer our students the best educational opportunities given the constraints of COVID-19. We endeavour to educate all in these changing times. I ask for the continued cooperation and patience of all as we work through the anomalies presented daily as a result of the worldwide prevalence of the pandemic.
Thank you Mister Speaker.