Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd yesterday announced that the government is in the “final stages” of amending the Education Act amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This would make the first time the act has been amended since 1996, according to the minister.
“The review and amendment process is led by a very competent team of officers at the ministry who garnered the ideas, thoughts, advice and suggestions of internal and external stakeholders including educators, students, unions, parents and useful insights from UNESCO,” Lloyd said in a contribution to the House of Assembly.
“The consultation revealed that a complete overhaul of the act was not necessary, that major emendation [was] sufficient.”
Lloyd said the act will be amended to incorporate greater use of technology and innovation in the delivery of education, inclusive of cybersecurity, privacy rights and the accessibility of platforms by all users.
It will also cater to individual and personalized learning inclusive of home-schooling.
“Although the Home-School Unit (HSU) has been established by the ministry since 2016, there is no provision in the Education Act to specifically address this area,” he said.
“The unit currently provides guidelines and regulations; however, it is necessary to govern this growing phenomenon through policy, so as to ensure quality programs.”
Lloyd added it will address the devolution of education authority to local districts, islands and school boards.
He said there are “peculiar and unique requirements of individual communities” that may be addressed in “a timely, adequate manner by the authorities and leadership of those communities”.
“While the act is quite comprehensive regarding school boards, there is the need to give more utility to the powers contained therein,” the minister said.
The Bahamas reported its first case of COVID-19 in mid-March.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis ordered the indefinite closure of all schools throughout The Bahamas not long after that case was confirmed.
Earlier this month, the prime minister announced that students would still sit this year’s Bahamas General Certificate Secondary Examinations (BGCSE) and Bahamas Junior Examinations (BJC).
This announcement has been met with some public criticism.
Addressing those concerns yesterday, Lloyd said, “Ministry of Education officials have observed, with some concern, the emphasis of many persons –including, we assume, some of our public school parents, who are insistent on canceling the national examinations for their children who are prepared to take them, regardless of the challenges which these children have faced since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In this regard, we note that some parents have reacted with outrage that the Ministry of Education would even consider going ahead with these exams, and 8,000 persons have apparently signed an online petition to deprive students of this vital opportunity.
“In some instances, there has been much venom and outrage directed at the Ministry of Education. This is understandable but regrettable.”
Lloyd also revealed new guidelines for operators taking advantage of the government’s bussing program on the Family Islands.
“Mr. Speaker, my ministry is fully aware of the necessary safety and health protocols which must be adhered to as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I would like to take this opportunity to advise operators to ensure that they are in full compliance with the regulations,” he said.
Operators must attend training sessions to be informed of new policies and procedures to effectively clean their mode of transportation, check students’ temperature before boarding, provide assigned seating, and be equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE).
All vehicles must be equipped with a First Aid Kit.
Students will be required to wear face masks and sanitize hands upon entry.
During his contribution, the minister noted that 5,351 students are enrolled in the National School Lunch Programme.
He said 2,551 of those students are enrolled on the Family Islands and 2,800 on New Providence.
“As a result of Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic, the unit realizes that there is a need for a review of the program, we must revisit eligibility and assessment of families and students who benefit from the program,” Lloyd said.
“Concerted efforts will be made during the 2020/2021 fiscal period to address these matters. Mr. Speaker, monitoring and evaluation is a key aspect of the coordination of the National School Lunch Programme.
“The program offers employment opportunities for 157 qualified Bahamians who serve as lunch vendors or food handlers. The challenges of COVID-19 demand that health protocols must be followed by all food handlers. In this regard, assessments will be conducted quarterly, while the practice of monitoring will be continuous.”
He noted that the government distributed food vouchers in three phases during the pandemic.
In the first phase, $233,955 worth of vouchers were distributed; $317,550 in the second phase and $322,000 in the third.
“Mr. Speaker, my ministry was able to bring financial relief to the unemployed food handlers by paying them during their time of unemployment, as this budget line was already provided for in the 2019-2020 budget,” he said.
“This food handlers stimulus package commenced on the 16th March 2020, when a total of $381,600 was distributed.
“This decision also helped to lessen the pressure on the amount of persons having to seek assistance from the National Insurance Board.”