The Government has provided all public education institutions with additional sums of between $500,000 and $1 million towards intensified preparations for the upcoming academic year, in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
This was disclosed by Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Hon. Karl Samuda, while making his contribution to the 2020/21 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (July 28).
He informed that secondary institutions have also been provided with $600,000 each to procure furniture, while the Ministry has commenced the procurement of tables and chairs for primary schools.
“This provision is in addition to the regular grants provided to schools in April and June, which amount to over $2.8 billion,” he said.
Mr. Samuda encouraged schools to contact their regional offices if there are further needs to be addressed.
In the meantime, the Education Minster informed that a phased approach will be utilised for the reopening of schools, to allow for the full care of all students and to prevent the likelihood of any spread of the virus. Tertiary institutions, however, will determine their own schedule.
“Special consideration will be given to staff and students with co-morbidity or underlying health conditions,” he said.
Schools are required to develop plans for the use and distribution of basic equipment and materials needed for sanitisation purposes, such as temperature check devices, hand-washing solutions/stations, masks, alcohol, sanitisers, and other personal protective equipment (PPE).
Mr. Samuda told the House that staff will be deployed to clean and sanitise school buildings, classrooms and other facilities prior to the resumption of school and according to a daily routine while school is in operation. Staff and students will receive training on the importance of social/physical distancing and other precautionary/hygiene practices to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Over 13,000 members of staff in our schools have already been trained. Each school will also develop a monitoring mechanism to ensure that precautionary measures are never compromised,” he said.
The Education Minister also noted that psychosocial sessions have been incorporated into the timetable for all students to help them cope with the changes imposed as a result of the pandemic.
“All schools will have a psychosocial programme in place supported by the guidance counsellors, deans of discipline, school nurses… and social workers. Students will be immersed in this programme for the first month of school… [and] the programme will continue until the end of the school year,” he said.
Additionally, Mr. Samuda informed that the Ministry has started to identify additional spaces for students to allow for continued social/physical distancing.
“We have been in dialogue with a number of churches to use their halls and other available spaces and we want to thank our church leaders for responding to this national need. Across the seven regions, more than 52 churches, so far, have made their halls available at request. We are negotiating with others,” he said.
Mr. Samuda noted that nearly 30 per cent of schools can operate with the existing spaces they have, while others have opted to use tents. The Ministry has also entered into partnership agreements with 39 private institutions, so far, to accommodate some students.
In the meantime, the Education Minister said schools are developing individual plans for reopening in September and school administrators have been guided to rearrange the seating in all classrooms in keeping with the social/physical distancing guidelines.
“They have also modified the timetable to ensure that teachers are appropriately deployed to attend to the students,” he said.