Both private and public schools on New Providence, Abaco and Eleuthera will reopen for virtual learning on October 5, Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd announced yesterday.
Schools on all other islands, including Grand Bahama, will open for face-to-face instruction.
Lloyd had previously announced that schools across The Bahamas would reopen on September 21, after closing on March 16, following the first locally confirmed case of COVID-19 locally.
However, that date was pushed back yesterday after more than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in The Bahamas in the last two months.
“This delay allows the ministry and parents and caregivers the opportunity to secure the needed devices for the full participation of all involved in the teaching and learning process,” Lloyd said during a Ministry of Education press conference.
“There is also a need to complete the installation of the adequate level of internet service needed for connectivity to the department’s virtual platform for thousands of students who will now remain at home in both the public and the private education sectors.”
Some have questioned why Grand Bahama, which has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas, is among the schools reopening for face-to-face instruction.
“Grand Bahama has indicated to the Ministry of Education, to the director, that they are able to operate on a face-to-face basis,” Lloyd told The Nassau Guardian.
“They provided that assurance to us and that’s why we made the decision that if you can operate on a face-to-face basis, then go ahead and do so. That doesn’t mean that they may not resort – in some schools – to a hybrid or remote modalit[y].
“[T]hey have indicated that they do have the space and the configuration that is permissible to do a face-to-face model.
“The truth is, we want any school and every school that can accommodate face-to-face, as I indicated in my presentation, to go ahead with that model because, as I said, that is the one that we know best.
“That is the one that is least disruptive to the students, parents and the teachers; and that is the one that is best assured for the holistic development of the student.”
When asked why Eleuthera, which had six COVID-19 cases when the announcement was made, was reopening for virtual classes, Director of Education Marcellus Taylor replied, “At this point, we are not confident that we will be able to provide the social distancing that is necessary at the time in Eleuthera, so that rates of infection will not get out of control.
“As soon as conditions are better, then we will, of course, see how we will accommodate Eleuthera.”
Lloyd’s announcement of the new opening date for schools came as some private schools wrapped up their first day of classes yesterday.
Asked whether that date applied to those schools, Lloyd said, “They can continue to operate virtually.”
Thousands of students will resume classes virtually next month.
Noting the worsening financial situation of many families across The Bahamas, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lloyd said the ministry is doing its best to ensure that students are not disadvantaged when classes resume.
“With this in mind, the ministry is committed to assisting our students, who are already enrolled in the National School Lunch Program, with obtaining devices to enable their online instruction,” he said.
“The ministry has already distributed 9,000 tablets to students in grades [kindergarten] through three and seeks to assist more students in the lower primary level.
“Digital devices such as tablets, laptops and projectors have been distributed to pre-school and lower primary schools on New Providence, Eleuthera, Exuma, Long Island, Cat Island, South Andros, Acklins, San Salvador, Mayaguana and East Grand Bahama.”