News

A protracted education crisis 

Following a tumultuous 2020 for educators, students and parents, many were hopeful that 2021 would bring about a sense of normalcy — the return to the classroom and the end to virtual learning for tens of thousands of students across The Bahamas.

But 2021 would offer a new set of challenges.

While there was reason to hope in early 2021 when the Ministry of Education announced that schools would resume under a hybrid model, a deadly third wave of COVID-19 infections meant that the full resumption of face-to-face learning would once again be sidelined.

Rising COVID-19 infections forced closures at multiple institutions, both private and public.

In April, health officials reported an increasing number of children presenting to the emergency section of Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) with COVID-19 symptoms.

By the time September rolled around, educators had already resigned themselves to reverting to the virtual learning platform.

The move, while unavoidable, came at considerable cost.

Officials reported that 30 percent of students were not logging on for virtual lessons. In some cases, teachers say as many as 50 percent of the students were not showing up consistently.

Education Minister Glenys Hanna-Martin has repeatedly categorized the situation as an emergency.

Addressing the issue in the House of Assembly earlier this month, the minister said: “Throughout this period in the last almost two years, thousands of children have been fully absent from school and have never logged onto the virtual platform and there are many who having logged on, including teachers, say they have experienced challenges and frustrations on the virtual platform.

“… The children who have been absent from school will have undoubtedly suffered significant learning loss, which if not remediated is likely to have serious detrimental effect on the individual lives of each child and on our collective state as a nation.”

Falling behind

Michaela Cunningham, a preschool teacher at Roker’s Point Primary in Exuma, can attest to the challenges associated with online learning. She said more than half of her class stopped attending virtual classes halfway through the term.

Cunningham said of the 16 students on her roster, only about 10 to 12 attended virtual classes regularly in the first two months.

“By November, it dropped to six attending daily,” she said.

Cunningham said the challenges do not stop there.

“Parents are completing the assignments and giving kids the answers during the lessons,” she said.

“Parents are having conversations while their child’s microphone is open. I would mute them, but the child would unmute or the adult would unmute it for the child to answer and continue with their conversation.”

She said power supply and internet issues have also proved to be a major problem for some of her students.

“Classes have been interrupted greatly,” she continued.

“As the teacher, it is hard for me to assess my students online.”

Cunningham added that she has had to move her classes to Zoom, which has a time limit of 40 minutes per session. She said the move was necessary because most of her students’ devices were not compatible with the Ministry of Education’s online platform.

Cunningham said what’s worse is some students don’t feel as though they were in school as they were distracted by what was happening at the home.

“Yes, rules were established from week one, but it’s not easy trying to tell someone what to do in their house,” she added.

“Virtual lessons, as we can see from the last year and a half, have caused our kids to fall behind. We may give the devices, but someone has to be home with the child to operate the device.

“Internet and electricity has to be in the home. Thus bringing them to the school is the best thing and teachers can see the true reflection of their students as well.”

Tamara Bain, whose child is a second grader at a private school, knows all too well how easily a child can get distracted during school hours.

She said her daughter has had a particularly difficult time with online learning.

“She is easily distracted,” Bain said. “For the last two months, her school has operated on the hybrid model, but even that has been extremely taxing for me. Her brother is in the sixth grade and oftentimes, I catch him on YouTube.

“When it comes to my six-year-old daughter, it’s a different story altogether.

“Sometimes, I leave the room and come back and she’s dancing instead of paying attention to what’s happening in the class. Her teachers have complained about her lack of attentiveness. I can’t watch her 24/7. So, it’s becoming more difficult to balance her school and my work and my son’s work.

“I paid for online tutoring for her. Her teacher basically told me that I’m wasting my money as my daughter does not concentrate during the online class. She does much better in a face-to-face environment. I’m afraid how this last semester will impact her learning process overall.”

Catastrophic

Jenny Joseph, a mother of two, faces a different set of challenges altogether.

Joseph said she has had to rotate her cellular phone between her children for them to attend classes. She acknowledged that it is not the ideal situation.

While some private schools received permission to operate face to face, public schools have remained in an exclusive virtual environment since September 2021.

With both of her daughters attending classes online, Joseph noted that half of the school term has likely been lost to them.

“One day one child uses the phone, the next day the other child goes to class,” she said. “Some days [it’s] rough. I don’t have data and we have to ask people to sign on to their WiFi. My girls do the best they could, but it’s rough on them.”

She said teachers send in the work and she does her best to help them stay on top of those assignments. However, she admitted that she finds it difficult to digest some of their work, particularly in mathematics and science.

“I don’t know what I’m reading sometimes. I just pray that this doesn’t hurt them in the long run,” Joseph added.

Hanna-Martin said when school resumes in January, students will be assessed to gauge the extent of learning loss.

“We don’t know for sure what the manifestation of this learning loss will be if we don’t do our best to counter it,” she said two weeks ago.

“The researchers at UNESCO are saying that it could be catastrophic and we could lose a generation.”

While Hanna-Martin said she does not want to use that kind of language, she acknowledged that it will be a huge undertaking to reach students who have fallen through the cracks.

“It is not a small matter and I don’t think anyone should minimize it down the list of priorities,” she continued.

“This is the priority. Health is also a serious priority, health and education, because this determines the future of our people. And we are being told that if we don’t get on top of this, we will reap the results of something very dysfunctional. That cannot happen.”

Over the last two weeks, health officials have reported an exponential increase in cases, which they believe is due to the omicron variant.

Public schools were set to reopen for hybrid learning on January 11. But officials announced on Wednesday that this has been delayed for two weeks as they assess the ongoing COVID situation.

Show More

Krystel Brown

Krystel covers breaking news for The Nassau Guardian. Krystel also manages The Guardian’s social media pages. She joined The Nassau Guardian in 2007 as a staff reporter, covering national news. She was promoted to online editor in May 2017. Education: Benedict College, BA in Mass Communications

Related Articles

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please support our local news by turning off your adblocker