Madame Speaker, yesterday Oct 5 was the first day of the new school term for 2020/2021. I take this opportunity to provide this Honourable House with an update on the official reopening of schools.

So Madame Speaker, I gave a national broadcast on Sunday night ahead of schools reopening to welcome back students and teachers to the remote environment and encourage them to soldier on using the three approaches that the Ministry outlined.

Madame Speaker, our public schools began classes with students remaining at home and receiving the teaching and learning experience in a number of different approaches (online, by audio/visual means utilizing the TV, cable network and radio), and the Ministry’s Learning Kit with their textbooks and worksheets.

While our students were eager to engage again with the formal educational system, we directed our schools to make the priority for yesterday, today and tomorrow the psychosocial support for our children. Schools were directed not to rush back into the subject lessons right away on day one. We asked principals and teachers to develop phychosocial sessions to ensure that the students are in the right state of mind.

On television, on the Ministry’s eHome network, our guidance and counselling teams had devotion and phychosocial sessions in recognition that our students have been out of school for more than six months as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and during this time would have been affected by the lack of interactions with their peers and teachers. They would have been impacted by the changes in their routines. Some of our children would have lost family members. Some may have had to be relocated from their familiar surroundings. Some might have witnessed violence in their communities and had other disruptions in their families. The psychosocial sessions are meant to address the children’s mental health and wellbeing, improve their capacity to cope with the emotional challenges and help to mitigate the impact of the stressors in their environment.

Madame Speaker, according to research, “Families should know that distressed children may regress in behaviour, particularly at younger ages. Older children may revert to play from a younger age, resume an old habit such as thumb sucking or rocking, or become more dependent and fearful of separation from the parents or caregivers. Adolescents can be particularly vulnerable when the gradual gaining of independence from the family is disrupted.”

Given that a large majority of our children are not in the school environment in which teachers and guidance counselors would have been able to spot these changes, parents and guardians have to be vigilant on an hour by hour basis to these subtle changes in their children and seek the help from the guidance counsellors at the school level. Clinical service providers are also available to provide counselling, psychosocial and empowerment sessions for the students, staff and parents.

Tele-counselling will continue in collaboration with The Child Guidance Clinic, supported by UNICEF. Students who were referred to the Child Guidance Clinic will continue to benefit from ongoing counselling though not in school.

Thirty five (35) psychosocial helplines for parents are available across all seven (7) Regions through the efforts of the National Parenting Support Commission in collaboration with UNICEF, Victoria Mutual Foundation and Fight for Peace.

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