Schools need to reopen for face-to-face instruction, according to some educators. They say too many students have lost concepts, and that generally students have become bored with online learning and that it is getting more difficult by the day to hold their attention, virtually.
Stephen McQueen’s first thought when he heard that schools across The Bahamas will reopen for some form of face-to-face instruction in the second week of January 2022, was that students absolutely need to return to the classroom.
McQueen, a fifth-grade teacher at Eva Hilton Primary School, cited mathematics as one of the subjects that has been challenging to continue to teach through the virtual school.
“A lot of children need to see you go to a whiteboard and we try to do that, too, [but] the virtual platform does not lend itself to teaching a practical subject like math.”
He said it has been difficult on both sides.
“I have to go to my whiteboard often when teaching math, and they seem to grasp it better when I go to the whiteboard and am able to show them directions and procedures to do. Primarily with math, but it’s also challenging with language, which is not as practical in that regard as is math.
He said he will be “absolutely happy” to see students seated at desks in front of him, rather than sitting in a classroom of desk and chairs.
“I need to see students,” said McQueen.
He also said in-person learning lends itself to building a comradery, which he said can’t be built through the virtual platform, but is not the same as in person.
“I’ve seen my children from day one – and we have great interaction… I can only imagine the feeling getting to see them face to face. I actually feel I know them.”
The onset of the pandemic in March 2020, he said, was initially difficult, as it was new to everyone, as very few educational institutions had a grasp on the virtual platform.
“So, at first, it was really difficult getting them [students] to stay focused to look at a screen versus a screen for video games – and that made holding attention challenging. Teachers have come a long way in holding attention. We have picked up strategies, and the Ministry [of Education] held workshops. We have a better grasp on that now.”
While he awaits the day students return to in-person learning full time, McQueen, who is into his third year teaching at Eva Hilton Primary School, said he would still like to be able to incorporate technology use.
At his school, he also said they have a system that works, which includes alphabetizing students to attend school, and assigning certain rooms for specific uses. He said families with more than one student at the school are able to bring them at one time, rather than alternating days.
As schools seek to reopen for face-to-face instruction, McQueen said he hopes the government will also do what they can to assist teachers with safety mechanisms that may be needed.
Another public sector teacher who did not want to be identified said she felt students would have gotten most of the concepts, but that she feels they are getting bored. She said the novelty of virtual learning has worn off, and that it is becoming more difficult to hold students’ attention.
“They are ready to come back and they ask when they are coming back.”
When she heard the announcement from Minister of Education Glenys Hanna-Martin of reopening for some form of face-to-face instruction in the second week of January, she said she read the “breaking news” to her students as she got it, and noted that they were excited.
“They want to be back in the physical classroom because they are aware of the fact that they’re not getting the attention. When they could put up their hand and I can see them – especially in mathematics, and I can go to them, look at their work and show them where they had a problem – that’s difficult to do virtually.”
As an educator, she said being in the physical classroom with her students means she will be able to reach more children and if she has to keep them after school to go over concepts, she can do that.
The sixth-grade teacher said the virtual learning curve has been different for each student. And she’s eager to get to know her students who have been exclusively virtual since the start of the academic year.
“We haven’t seen this crew, so we don’t even know what we’re dealing with, where they were, what is happening, what kind of student I’m dealing with. January is going to be like a September, and worse, because I was expecting this child was an A grade student doing well virtually, but all of a sudden, this child is in front of me and can’t read. I don’t know what to expect.”
Or, she said, it could be the opposite, and that a child that hardly ever speaks in the virtual classroom, and doesn’t want to be bothered, could be waiting to bloom, in person.
“It could go either way,” she said.
One drawback to the virtual platform she has seen is students skipping out when they become bored.
“It’s not easy to hold their attention from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. virtually.”
Based on advice from the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Hanna-Martin said she was able to announce the reopening of classrooms nationwide, including New Providence.
During her announcement, she also said that several schools will not be able to facilitate in-person classes in the new year as a result of ongoing repairs – Carlton Francis Primary School, C.W. Sawyer Primary School, Ridgeland Primary School, Sybil Strachan Primary School, Uriah McPhee Primary School, Yellow Elder Primary School, L.W. Young Junior High School, S.C. McPherson Junior High School and Moore’s Island All-Age School.
While they are also undergoing repairs, Hanna-Martin said officials will have to determine if three other schools — Centre for the Deaf, Columbus Primary School and Gambier Primary School — are fit for occupancy in January.
She said as it relates to the students of these schools, the ministry is devising alternate plans to ensure they facilitate face-to-face instruction and that the children will be in school.
Some private schools have already received permission to operate face to face.