In light of a rise in COVID-19 cases islandwide, linked to a fifth wave of the coronavirus, the Government of Jamaica has indicated that a special effort is being made to keep the nation’s children in school.
Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, Jamaican students have suffered immense learning loss due to school closures and primarily virtual learning modalities.
With the return of students to face-to-face classes, educators are witnessing firsthand the dire impact the pandemic has had on the nation’s education system, and are hopeful that recovery efforts will not be thwarted by further school closures.
Speaking at a recently held COVID Conversations virtual press briefing, Education Minister Fayval Williams shared: “I know all of us were delighted at the news that our students were able to go back fully into the face-to-face environment and at the time back in early March, while the physical distancing rules could not be observed in all cases, we stressed the continued adherence to hand washing or hand sanitisation… .”
She noted that, since the return to face-to-face classes on March 7, the education ministry has been monitoring the incidence of COVID-19 in schools, and has observed a noticeable increase in suspected and confirmed cases of the virus over the last three weeks.
“In response, we again disseminated a recent bulletin to the education system alerting our stakeholders about the current situation and reminding them to enforce COVID-19 protocols to ensure the safe operations of schools,” stated Williams.
In addition, the education minister disclosed that “school administrators were also asked to resensitise all key stakeholders about the protocols to be observed, including the frequent washing of hands, temperature checks and the wearing of masks”.
Williams informed that, as of May 10, six high schools had reported a return to online learning for some classes, due to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The high schools are Kingston College, Calabar High, St Hugh’s High, Westwood High, Manchester High and Wolmer’s Boys’ School.
For his part, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton emphasised that, while the return to face-to-face classes represents an area of vulnerability in the management of the fifth coronavirus wave, it is a worthwhile risk given the negative impact the pandemic has had on the education system.
He stated: “I will continue to reiterate that, to keep our children out of school beyond the two-plus years that they were out, would have had and has had a debilitating effect, that is far more intense than them being in the school environment even at the risk of contracting COVID.”
He added: “The evidence is suggesting that while we are having cases in the schools… we are not seeing cases that are severe to the point of hospitalisation or even death… . I am not suggesting that it is risk-free, (instead) we are suggesting as a Government that there is a greater risk to isolating them for so long.”