Jan 26, 2021 Letters
I wonder if the Ministry of Education has within its employ a health officer to seek advice from when making decisions that affect the public, especially given our present situation with the Covid-19 pandemic that has changed the way we live and threaten our health and well-being on a daily basis. And when we thought that we can return to a sense of normality in the near future Covid-19 is proving to be a far greater nemesis therefore, taking all necessary measures to protect the population should be the number one priority of state institutions.
The Ministry of Education has made available worksheets for students in the school system which is highly commendable. However, this very ministry has forgotten its responsibility to both teachers and students to protect their health. In the secondary schools, grades 7, 8 and 9 students have been receiving classes online through various platforms such as WhatsApp, Google classroom and Zoom. While online teaching may be new to Guyana, in many countries, entire degree programmes are conducted in this manner. Also, online teaching includes the administering and marking of assessments.
As a secondary school teacher teaching in the lower forms, I’ve been informed by the school’s administrators that teachers are now required to uplift and mark completed worksheets and assign grades to students based on these. I find this new directive completely nonsensical for several reasons.
The first issue is that the answers for all exercises can be found right on the worksheets so would grading students based on ‘tests’ where the questions and answers are provided on the same paper reflect the real abilities of the students? Is this a new form of assessment?
Secondly, these worksheets do not take into account the different situations of schools across the country. For instance, Grade 7 students commenced classes in late October 2020, instead of the first week in September therefore, they did not receive a full term’s work and did not cover all the required topics. The progression of topics covered on the worksheets follow a ‘normal’ academic year. In my area, foreign language, if I teach using these worksheets then I’d forced to skip many topics that the students should have covered in order to understand certain concepts. For example, a normal progression would be to teach present tense before past tense and if for no fault of their own students were shortchanged during the Christmas term should the teacher just follow the instructions from the ministry and teach as if students were receiving lessons from since the first week in September? And don’t forget students in other grades who did not receive formal teaching from March to July 2020.
Also, do standardised worksheets address the particular needs of all students across the country? And is this teaching method the only choice for teachers? For the area of foreign language, I do not believe that students learn and become interested in learning if they have to write pages of notes and complete exercises where answers are already provided. How are they supposed to employ critical thinking? I think it’s better for students to listen, understand, speak and apply themselves rather than “speed through topics” and write bundles of notes which they do not understand. I think learning should be fun and interesting; for my classes I use music, educational videos and cartoons which cover the particular lesson; audio files, cultural exposure through videos and images, provide content and exercises for students to apply themselves etc.
Then we come to the very important issue of teachers being forced to take unnecessary risks which could be detrimental to their health given how contagious Covid-19 is. Why should they be forced to play Russian roulette with their health by handling hundreds of worksheets that were touched by possibly more than a thousand persons just to mark exercises where students were given the answers beforehand? Wouldn’t it be better to just give each child a 100% if you are going to provide the questions and answers at the same time? Also, many persons live with elderly parents and other relatives. Isn’t it selfish to jeopardize the health of the elderly unnecessarily?
I feel that these worksheets could be used as a supplemental resource especially in schools where the students are already receiving lessons from a teacher. Also, by being limited to using worksheets as the primary teaching material teachers are forced to change the way they teach and the lessons are standardized.
On the issue of assessments, these can be done online as well. Several online platforms utilised by teachers contain features which allows the setting, marking and submission of tests and assignments. These online assessments would provide better feedback on students’ performance than marking exercises with answers already provided to the students.
The Ministry of Education needs to prioritize the health and well-being of students and teachers above all else and let teachers teach. Maybe, free Wi-Fi and devices can be provided to disadvantaged students to use at schools, community centres and other public places in villages across the country or schools can have double sessions and employ social distancing and recommended hygienic practices for the lower forms.
Secondary School Teacher (Name provided)
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