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Acting Chief Education Officer in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Dr. Kasan Troupe. (FILE)
Photo: Michael Sloley

Bouts of stress and anxiety being experienced by some students sitting Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) external tests in July should be allayed as the school system moves to adjust current online/remote learning arrangements to physically accommodate youngsters requiring additional preparations.

The closure of school plants in March was one of several Government-initiated measures to control local spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). This resulted in lessons being taught online and through other remote platforms such as television and radio.

These arrangements will be kept in place until July 3, with schools slated for physically reopening in September.

However, with students now required to sit the rescheduled external examinations in July, which involves the completion of School Based Assessments (SBAs) in preparation for this, the Administration took the decision to reopen school plants for this cohort from June 8 to July 1.

Acting Chief Education Officer (CEO) in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Dr. Kasan Troupe, tells JIS News that this was based on a Cabinet directive following consultations with the Ministries of Health and Wellness, and Education, in a bid “to support the level of preparation that needs to take place for students to sit the exit exams”.

“Our Minister [with responsibility for Education, Hon. Karl Samuda], felt that it was necessary to provide a period of remedial work to enable the system to complete the SBAs and put the final touches in place so our children can be comfortable as they approach their exit exams,” she notes.

Approximately 76,000 students are registered to sit the 2020 exit examinations – 59,662 for Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), and 16,243 for Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE).

While most students would have substantially completed the syllabi up to time of the closure of schools, several have had challenges accessing online learning platforms and other channels.

These students would, therefore, need additional support to complete their preparations for the examinations which have now been rescheduled for July to August 2020.

To smoothly guide this process, while simultaneously managing the COVID-19 crisis, the Education Ministry has developed a comprehensive Education in Emergencies manual for the reopening of educational institutions.

The 160-page document, which was circulated to institutions on May 29, is designed to guide school leaders in implementing measures which will support the safe reopening of schools.

“We are in an emergency; so our system would definitely need to be provided with some guidelines. Our education in emergencies programme has different phases; so we are now in what we call the recover, reintegration and reform period,” Dr. Troupe informs.

She explains that during this period, “we have a responsibility to provide our schools with key guidelines on how to treat with our students when they return and how to prepare the environment for children and staff”.

“We are going through a health crisis and therefore extra precautions would need to be practiced to make sure everybody is safe,” the Acting CEO adds.

Importantly, Dr. Troupe says it is anticipated that not everyone will be able to return to the physical school environment during the initial re-opening period, as there are some persons who may not be well and those who have comorbidities. As such, she says these individuals will be catered to, as outlined in the manual.

“Within our manual, we have explained to our principals that they should also make accommodation for these students who we may have to treat with from a remote perspective. So not all persons will be back [and] you can anticipate that there are anxieties. The important thing is that we have provided the opportunity for persons to get the necessary support to make sure that they are ready to have a successful sitting of their exams,” she points out.

Dr. Troupe assures that all protective measures as outlined in the manual, will be taken to safeguard the health and wellbeing of students and staff.

“All the necessary precautions [will be followed] – making sure that there are wash stations available for frequent hand-washing; reducing the movement of students, so that areas that are frequently touched can be sanitized; leaving regular areas like doorways…ajar in most cases so that we would reduce the frequent touching taking place at those areas,” she notes.

The Acting CEO also shares that the Education Ministry will be issuing protective gears, including gloves and masks, to schools.

Additionally, temperature guns will be provided for school administrators, and training is to be conducted in their use.

“The Ministry of Education will provide training to our school nurses, our Deans of Discipline, our guidance counsellors, and our bursars. Those training sessions will be held in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and through those sessions persons will be given the particular skill set and knowledge base to conduct the temperature checks and how to treat with persons who have high temperatures,” she says.

Dr. Troupe further points to other important guidelines outlined in the manual, including physical distancing, and the wearing of masks which must be practiced within the school environment.

“We have also put in our guidelines, the number of persons to be reasonably accepted in a school environment in a classroom to make sure that persons are safe,” she informs.

She also indicates that the Ministry is now getting schools ready to engage in deep cleansing, noting that regular cleaning routines will be established to ensure persons are safe within the school environment.

“We continue to listen, we continue to consult, we continue to be guided. This is an unprecedented period for all of us and I know that my teachers, I know that my students, I know that my administrators and Board members, they are anxious. But we assure them that all the decisions that have been taken, they have been guided by the experts and we stand ready to provide any kind of support, any individual in our education system will need for the adjustment to take place and for the full integration of our school system,” Dr. Troupe further assures.

“We want all our students to be exposed to the teaching and learning environment; we want all students to be given an equal opportunity for quality education, and that is what we are trying to provide. So whatever changes that we have to make, we will continue to do so in the best interest of our children and all our stakeholders,” she adds.

According to the manual, critical to the safe reopening of schools is the ability of school leaders to ensure that the requisite behavioural changes to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are effectively implemented in the daily practices of all schools.

The manual references the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) (2020) document which stipulates strict adherence to the following measures within the school system: good health practices; physical distancing – (specifically, staying six feet away from others when you must go into a shared space); frequent washing of hands or use alcohol-based (at least 60 per cent alcohol) hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available; wearing cloth face coverings; avoiding the touching of eyes, nose, and mouth; staying home when sick; and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The manual also outlines, among other things: general guidelines for the partial resumption and full reopening of schools, including sanitization and hygiene practices; management of waste; management of the ill; wearing of masks/face coverings; operationalizing wellness management and physical distancing guidelines and measures in relation to the classroom setting.

There are also guidelines relating to lunch and transportation arrangements; catering to students with special needs; considerations for staff with special needs; and communication/behaviour management.

Also covered in the document are: COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) Guidance for Schools; Preparedness and Response to COVID-19 Case Management in Schools; Best Practice Tips for Conducting Temperature Checks; School-Wide Positive Behaviour Interventions and Supports Framework (SWPBIS); Tips for Teaching Skills Needed for Infection/Disease Control in Schools; and Standard Operating Procedures for COVID-19 Cleaning.

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