With Jamaica’s resumption of face-to-face learning officially through its two-week pilot phase, Minister of Education Fayval Williams says her administration will continue to assess the risk before new measures, or schools, are announced in the new year.
Williams, speaking at a post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday (November 25), warned that until the ministry completes its internal assessment of the pilot programme, it would be too early to give a definitive date for a return to in-school learning.
The programme, which began on Tuesday, November 10, ended last Friday after the island shuttered all schools in March amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
“Friday (November 20) would have been the end of the two-week pilot for the 17 schools; we are in the process of looking at different information that would have been gathered by our observers,” she said.
“Last Tuesday, I presented an interim report in Parliament, and those are [among] similar factors we will observe during the final week [assessment]. We are finalising that report, and it is going to guide us going forward,” Minister Williams added.
According to the education minister, the risk assessment is important, as the pilot programme highlighted several areas that the government would need to address before the phased resumption continues.
“One of the major issues that surfaced is how we handle those cases that present themselves of students have [coronavirus] symptoms. We have to ensure that schools are sufficiently resourced, not just in terms of information, but also the physical [space] to manage that situation,” the minister explained.
In the meantime, Williams told journalists that an expansion of the phased reopening is likely, as the ongoing process to inspect and pass schools in a pandemic context continues in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
“We are looking at other schools and we will continue to do the phased reopening of schools [but] we have to depend on the physical inspections by the Ministry of Health,” Williams noted.
“We have 109 schools that have been inspected and rated satisfactory, and we are looking at that list, speaking with the principals to work out how we continue to bring schools back [to] face-to-face,” she remarked further.
The process is a “significant logistics job that requires some time”, the minister contended, adding that, “The phased reopening will continue to use the risk-based assessment, ensuring that the school’s plant (physicality) is in proper order for students to come back.”
Williams further explained that the education ministry will consider all variables employed in the initial pilot when selecting additional schools, including community/location, distance students travel, adequate water and internet infrastructure, among other factors.
Across nine parishes, the ministry selected 17 schools to return to face-face learning on a phased basis. Among them, 12 primary schools and five high schools in Clarendon, Manchester, Portland, St Ann, St Elizabeth, St James, Westmoreland, St Thomas, and Trelawny were chosen.
More than 5,000 students are enrolled in the selected institutions.