As the new school year is upon us in the middle of this global pandemic, I wanted to share my take on the back to school strategy.
As a Guyanese living abroad, I have been keenly looking in as Guyana now goes on the rebuilding path and as the Minister/Ministry of Education began to engage various sections of the community for a safe back to school plan, here are some of my thoughts.
As all health officials have recommended, social distancing is the best way to avoid the COVID-19 spread, so not opening schools best meets this criterion. Getting students started will entail some form of distant learning that could include, but not limited to, online delivery, broadcast programmes and print materials. Implementing these three options can be done in multiple ways and I have given it some thought based on what I think will work.
Depending on the availability of a computer/tablet with internet access, online learning will work but might be a bit challenging. I have taught in both formats, in class and online and from my experience, online is always more of a challenge and as such, teachers will have to do a lot more preparation.
On the assumption that an online platform has already been identified for the delivery of the curriculum, teachers will have to be trained on the usage of the platform and then have to prepare professional audio and/or video lectures to be uploaded.
Adequate training can provide a greater comfort level of proficiency with emerging technology that will go a long way with regards to teacher’s success in working with students and parents.
On the opposite side, students will also have to get access to the platform and be trained to a lesser extent than teachers on how to be competent with 21st century technology such as document download/retrieval, uploads, chat features, etc. for successful completion of online classwork.
The upside to students is that the material can be accessible for a lengthy period if the educators deem necessary, so students can have multiple access to their material /coursework.
Print material could be prepared in packages and held for pick up at schools with parents given scheduled on when to do a contactless pick up on a specified date and time.
Schools can prepare a lobby area and organize packages in alphabetical order by student name on shelves for a contactless pick up by parents with some staff on hand possibly behind some transparent screen to provide help if needed.
For submission of work, a drop box can be set up in the school for parents to insert sealed envelopes with the teacher’s name on it. Schools can include this envelope in the pickup package with the return label already attached to avoid any mix up. Students will certainly have the need to communicate with the teachers as the source of learning is only reading and they will have questions; as such, a phone call to a provided number within a certain period when the teachers will be available could be that means of communication.
Broadcast format would be via radio and/or television and most households have access to either. Audio and video lectures produced for the online format can be aired at scheduled times previously communicated to parents/students.
This option can be used in conjunction with the printed material format; having listened and/or viewed the lectures, students who would be required to complete assignments would get it from the print format method.
Educators can decide on specific dates for exams and bring students into schools for that as was done for the NGSA, and of course, always observing all strict COVID-19 guidelines to ensure the safety of all students and ministry staff.
The reality is, students will have to go back to school and, I am sure the Ministry of Health is working with the Ministry of Education on guidelines to make it happen. For the time being, facemasks must be mandatory, not only for the education sector on the safe return to school, but the entire country today. Let us all stay safe.
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