Smooth start as students return

Relief, fears as in-person learning resumes

Thousands of students across The Bahamas returned to school for in-person learning yesterday for the first time in nearly a year.

Hybrid learning was initially supposed to resume on January 11 but was delayed, due to an exponential increase in COVID-19 cases at the time.

While cases appear to be trending downward, some parents expressed concern yesterday about the possibility of their children contracting the virus while at school.

“It’s scary,” said Tess Pratt, whose five-year-old son is in grade one at C.W. Sawyer Primary School.

“I just had to remind him that he has his own hand sanitizer and that he doesn’t need to share with anyone because he has his own hand wipes and to make sure to keep himself clean.

“The young kids — because this is only grades one, two and three — they usually want to share with each other all of their utensils like crayons, pencils and everything, so it’s kind of scary. You don’t know who is actually sick from who isn’t and that’s a big concern for me.”

Pratt said this is her son’s first time in the classroom.

Mavis Bailey, the mother of a seven-year-old girl who is in grade three at the same school, had similar concerns.

Bailey said it was likely she would spend all yesterday worrying about her daughter.

“It’s scary because of the COVID-19,” she said, adding that it is her biggest concern.

“But, other than that, I think being in school is better because they can get more hands-on with the teacher when compared with home because they tend to play.”

She looked forward to her daughter being back in the classroom.

Bailey said she worries her daughter’s education might have suffered as a result of virtual learning.

“They are not as focused at home as they would be at school,” she said.

“You know, in that environment, they tend to glance at the TV or play or not take it as serious.”

Bailey said her daughter was excited to be returning to school and to see her friends.

Public schools have been operating almost exclusively virtually since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

There were hybrid arrangements for public schools early last year but a surge in cases pushed the 2021-2022 school year back to virtual in September.

The minister of education has expressed concerns with the impact of virtual learning on the education of students as some face challenges that prevent them from being able to attend online classes.

This was a concern echoed by Joan Marjorie Knowles, principal of C.W. Sawyer, who said roughly 40 percent of students at the schools had not been logging on for classes.

“When we first started out, we had up to 70 percent logging on but, after a while, it started to drift off,” she said.

“A lot of them are saying they have no WiFi, no electricity and all sorts of other issues. That is why we will be doing the testing to see where they are now.”

Knowles said the school also has a system set up for student orientation this week.

“We decided instead of having all the children come from each grade level to split, so that all the babies who have been out for two years — and who have been suffering — can get a chance to get that first orientation, so they can be introduced to the routine of the school, the rules and go over some other things they may have missed,” she said.

“Monday is for aqua and Tuesday is for black. Aqua is for those students who have been logging on for a long time and black is for those who have been seldomly logging on. On Friday, we will have the gold stars for those students who haven’t been on and who have been missing.

“Hopefully, they will show up. On Wednesday and Thursday, grades four, five and six will be coming in to do their orientation. Next week, we will do our testing.”

At Yellow Elder Primary School, Lavita Pierre, mother of a sixth-grader, told The Nassau Guardian that her son’s grades suffered tremendously as a result of virtual learning. 

Yellow Elder Primary School Secretary Shanita Curtis greets a student with a fist bump yesterday.

She said being back in the classroom will “be better for him”.

“I’m so glad that the schools are opened and he won’t be in the house,” said Pierre as she watched her son enter the school. 

“Being in the house did not work for him because he would play games and skip the class and not do anything for school. It was not good for my child.”

Marco Smith, a father of a five-year-old girl, who is in grade one at Eva Hilton Primary School, agreed that the return to in-person learning is “much needed” for children after nearly three years of on and off virtual learning.

He said that virtual learning “isn’t working”.

“I have four kids right now that do the virtual [learning] and I don’t really see the benefit in it,” Smith said.

“There’s nothing like one-on-one teaching like back in the day how we used to do it. You can actually get more out of the children. I feel for the parents who have to work and have no one to actually watch their kids.

“It was much needed for them to get back in the classroom. We all know the concerns but, right now, the virus isn’t going anywhere, so we just have to find ways to deal with it and be more proactive.”

He said virtual learning is not very conducive for young children.

Smith said it is hard for teachers to reach many of the students via the internet. 

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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