STATEMENT BY MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, CULTURE, YOUTH AFFAIRS, FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
DR. THE HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18, 2020
CLOSURE OF SCHOOLS AS A PRECAUTIONARY MEASURE AGAINST COVID-19
In January, 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of the new Coronavirus disease in Hubei Province, China to be a public health emergency of international concern.
WHO indicated that it was spreading rapidly to other regions, countries and territories.
On Wednesday, 11th March, 2020, the Director-general of the WHO declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. It has reached to several Caribbean Countries, including the United States Virgin Islands, our closest neigbours.
To date, there are no confirmed cases of COVID -19 in the Virgin Islands; however, your government has been taking some major decisions to ensure the safety and protection of all the people of this Territory.
With respect to the educational sector, the health and safety of our staff and students remain a high priority, and we continue to take every precautionary and preventative measure as recommended by the Ministry of Health.
We have placed great emphasis on disseminating information on the policy regarding the School Health and Sanitization Action Plan and sharing various forms of related literature during the early stages of this health concern.
Now, we will take further preventative actions to safeguard the staff and students of all educational institutions in the Territory because this global pandemic remains fluid.
With this in mind, all private and public schools, pre-schools, day care centres and extra-curricular activities are mandated to close with effect from Thursday, 19th March, 2020 until Friday 3rd April, 2020.
This is in keeping with the Cabinet’s decision announced by the Premier last evening in the press conference on the COVID-19 coronavirus preparedness.
The students will then have their Easter break beginning on Monday 6th April and ending Sunday 19th April.
The cabinet will actively monitor the situation as it relates to COVID-19 and make further recommendations as to whether students will return to school or continue their education at home following Easter break.
Now, many persons have questioned why close schools if we do not have a confirmed case of COVID-19 to date.
Given the rapid spread of the virus in our region, including confirmed cases in all the major hubs for connecting flights into the BVI, we are forced to take every measure to protect the most vulnerable groups in our society.
Modeling suggests that with minimal containment and under ideal conditions, one confirmed case of COVID-19 could lead to the infection of 4000 persons in 4 weeks.
Research also suggests that the best way to contain this virus is by limiting opportunities for human contact, good hygiene, and social distancing. In light of these facts, wisdom dictates that we “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” We trust God, but we also know that faith without works is dead.
In line with Cabinet’s decision, the Ministry of Education has put in place various steps for public school students to remain engaged during this time period.
Teachers must report to work for the rest of this week to prepare work for students and complete the term’s work.
While students are out on this mandatory break, teachers are to prepare learning resource packets containing activities for students to review and consolidate concepts taught over the term.
Principals have been asked to utilize whatever means they have available to ensure students receive assigned work.
The Chief Education Officer and the team of Education Officers will continue to maintain contact with principals throughout the period and offer the necessary guidance and support.
The final grades for the Lent term will be calculated based on assignments graded to date.
Projects or other assignments due on or after Thursday 19th March should go towards the Trinity term.
The Power School Portal will be closed to parents from 30th March to 3rd April, 2020 to allow teachers to enter students’ final grades.
With respect to upcoming examinations, the Exit Proficiency exams will be rescheduled for the Trinity term, and we anticipate that the Key Stage Assessments will remain for the scheduled date of 12th June.
When it comes to regional examinations, the Caribbean Examinations Council is working on establishing the most suitable time for CPEA, CSEC, and CAPE exams.
This information is currently being finalized and will be released in a few weeks.
In the meantime, I encourage students to use this time to continue preparations of SBAs and content preparation.
The Ministry of Education will engage further planning for online teaching and learning in the event that the mandatory closure of schools persists beyond the Easter break.
Several platforms for teaching and learning will be used. These include the following:
Cisco Webex – A Training Centre that offers online lectures, vocational training, tutoring, and group projects; stimulates learning and group collaboration through virtual breakout sessions; and evaluates class effectiveness with integrated testing, polling, and reports.
CXC Notemaster - A custom built learning environment that places emphasis on the principles of collaborative learning, open access to knowledge and education across borders. Notesmaster uses digital syllabi to guide educators and learners through their subjects.
Flow’s online learning platform, Flow Study – An e- Learning platform for preparation of CSEC and CAPE examinations.
Google Classroom – Facilitates paperless communication between teachers and students and streamlines educational workflow. Classroom allows teachers to create classes, post assignments, organize folders and view work in real-time.
Class Dojo - A popular option among teachers in the education system that can facilitate communication between teachers, students, and families using photos, videos, and messages.
Training for teachers in the use of the Cisco Webex will begin during the week of the 23rd March, 2020. This training is also being extended to teachers in private schools. Training will be conducted by the Department of Information Technology (DoIt) and the ICT Unit in the Ministry of Education.
Additional training from Google on the use of chromebooks and the google classroom is being sought and is currently being finalized.
Notemaster is already up and running and can be accessed at any time by teachers and students.
The Ministry is having discussions with Telecommunications companies, potential donors, and other entities, in hopes of expanding access to technological resources and the internet. We are also making accommodations for those who do not yet have access to technology. Further updates in this regard are forthcoming.
Your government also acknowledges that the decision to close schools has implications on parents as it relates to childcare.
We are grateful to the employers which have already put arrangements in place for employees to work remotely along with other helpful measures.
In this two week period, we urge all employers to work together with working parents in the best interest of our children.
Also, with a spirit of togetherness, let us help each other as much as possible as a community, by sharing childcare responsibilities with responsible family members and other trusted individuals.
This unprecedented disaster will certainly test us as a people, but, with God, no obstacle is too big to be removed and no mountain too high for us to climb.
In the same way that we made it through Hurricane Irma, we will make it through this devastating event.
As we continue in this period of uncertainty, trust the Lord and remain calm. I ask that we adhere to the ongoing advisories from the Cabinet and the Ministry of Health and stay safe and prayed up.
I will continue to update you on what is happening in the educational sector.
God bless our education system and God bless the resilient people of the Virgin Islands!