Fully face-to-face classes resume

Students in the government operated school system will commence fully face-to-face classes today.

The return to the classroom is welcomed by administrators, teachers, parents and students who agree that notwithstanding the wonders of the internet and virtual learning, most students require supervision and direction best delivered in person.

Estimates suggest that several thousand students fell out of the education system since March 2020, having never participated in virtual instruction.

Some participated only intermittently, and others “aged out” of the system and are unlikely to return to regular classes.

For many, the amount of lost learning is incalculable.

Minister of Education Glenys Hanna-Martin in her national address last evening, gave an accounting of her ministry’s plans to address the difficult tasks ahead.

She advised that the Ministry of Education is in the process of identifying a technological firm that will assist in assessing student learning levels and address accelerated learning to help close learning gaps.

Young people, however, who “aged out” or dropped out of the school system during the past two years are excluded.

The minister reported that 100 new teachers have been engaged for the new school year; she heralded the opportunity being pursued by the ministry for teachers to pursue master’s degrees in special education abroad and she spoke of the development of a career path that would permit teachers to apply for the posts of senior and master teachers.

The minister did not advise on the number of teachers who have resigned or retired since the close of schools in June nor did she give the total number of vacancies for teachers in the government education system.

Perplexingly, the minister appeared unaware that teachers in the government education system have been afforded in-service training opportunities to pursue internationally required specialized training not available in The Bahamas, whether at the bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate level, for decades.

And the minister was similarly ill-informed on the need to develop a teaching career path leading to posts as senior and or mater teachers. Such a career path has existed and been budgeted for annually for more than 20 years. Indeed, details are posted on the ministry’s webpage.

The minister repeated earlier assurances that the summer government school repair program is near completion and that remaining works are not expected to prevent the resumption of classes. She gave one exception: a several days’ delay in the reopening of the Centre for the Deaf.

And she recorded gratification that for the first time in years, teachers’ salaries, allowances and benefits increased and retention bonuses have been introduced.

For all our best wishes regarding returning to pre-pandemic lifestyles and practices, COVID-19 has not been conquered. New infections, though in smaller numbers and with less lethal effect, persist.

Keeping thousands of students and teachers healthy will require mature cooperation and discipline from many who even at this late date remain unvaccinated, indeed disinterested in becoming vaccinated against COVID-19.

Further, many people still treat wearing face masks as an annoyance to be tolerated for the briefest periods possible.

Guarding against lax observance of COVID health protocols will need to be a priority on school campuses.

Added to fear of contagion, several government schools continue to be challenged with behavioral problems imported onto campuses from troubled neighborhoods around New Providence.

During the short period of time that students returned to school campuses in early 2022, a number of schools experienced serious incidents of violence.

We encourage the minister of education to keep parents and the public informed on the implementation of programs and processes to accelerate learning and address deficiencies caused by two years of abbreviated education.

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