COVID-19 has affected many countries throughout the world in unprecedented ways. This coronavirus pandemic had led to a complete or partial lockdown in many countries. During epidemics, absenteeism of learners and educators tends to rise due to illness or precaution and could lead to forced closure of schools.
There was no need for a ‘forced closure’ since most countries acted promptly by closing the doors of schools as a necessary precaution to keep children, teachers and families safe from this deadly disease.
This closure has caused a vast number of children in the world having their education significantly interrupted.
Many countries have crafted policies and have shifted to a ‘remote learning model’ trying to provide the best learning experience for their children through meaningful engagement and frequent learning opportunities. What is Guyana doing?
I wish to enlighten readers on what the Ministry of Education has initiated. On April 19, 2020, the Ministry issued a press release as a consequence of the extended closure of schools, advising parents to visit the Ministry of Education’s website to access National Grade Six (NGSA) Practice Test Papers in the four core areas (English, Science, Social Studies and Mathematics) along with other educational websites to access textbooks and other resources. Parents were also advised to tune into various radio and television programmes.
In addition to those measures outlined, teachers at secondary and tertiary levels were advised under the guidance of the Chief Education Officer (CEO) to engage students via Zoom, Skype and other similar electronic means. It should be noted that secondary and tertiary teachers were ‘advised’ and not ‘instructed’ to engage students in online learning.
It was further stated that there is a ‘Technical Team’ at the MoE who is continuously working to upgrade the support provided to teachers and students and they are engaged in discussion with international development partners to establish additional e-learning platforms including e-testing for students. I must applaud the Ministry of Education for those steps they would have taken. However, teachers are now asked to prepare and submit a weekly report on what was done through virtual teaching. How can you prepare a report when the MoE has done NOTHING to establish any virtual teaching platform for its learners?
That is, of course, preposterous. It is quite simple to distribute iPods or tablets to learners and teachers in areas where internet service is accessible so that they can establish virtual classrooms, then ask for a weekly report. In New York City, for example, some300,000 internet-enabled iPods were distributed to children so that they can participate in remote learning. How many iPods or tablets were distributed in Guyana? None, yet there has been request for a weekly report.
One may question, is Guyana ready for virtual teaching? Are we financially equipped to provide gadgets for our children to facilitate distance learning? According to New York-based stock market, NASDAQ, Guyana is listed as the fastest growing economy in the world with a projected growth rate of 16.3 percent from 2018-2021. Those projections are contained in a report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which stated that Guyana’s real GDP is expected to grow by approximately 86 percent in 2020. With the fastest growing economy in the world, I think we can afford it.
For students who are living in remote areas with limited or no internet access, I am recommending to the Ministry of Education to utilize our postal system to provide supplemental learning materials, such as workbooks and worksheets, to keep them engaged during this period. In addition to that, the MoE needs to have more educational programmes aired on radio and television so that children in the riverain areas can benefit.
I strongly believe that if the Government of Guyana, particularly the Ministry of Education, has the nation’s children at heart they will provide the requisite resources needed so that they can participate in virtual classrooms and be meaningfully engaged, without worrying about the cost. I am optimistic that something will be done anytime soon so that our children can benefit through distance learning as we all battle against the coronavirus pandemic.
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