The Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) said teachers of Standard Five are willing to return to school July 20 to prepare their pupils for the Secondary Entrance Examination. There are concerns about the implementation of COVID-19 precautions.
Responding to the Catholic News via email the CEBM’s Chief Executive Officer Sharon Mangroo stated, to implement the social distancing stipulated in the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) circular to schools June 20, seating of each Standard Five class will be distributed over two or more classrooms. “The single Standard Five teacher will not be physically present to the students in all classrooms and therefore may not be able to ensure that all students are safe and secure,” she said. For large schools where there are three and four Standard Five classes, “this is especially an issue”.
The CEBM was awaiting word from the ministry about supplies to be given to principals for sanitising or the basis for the allocation to schools. Mangroo said, “general instructions have been issued for cleaning and sanitising but no standards have been provided”. Principals have been asked for information on the number and location of hand sanitising stations needed, but she added, “no criteria for determining this have been provided”.
Mangroo said the curriculum for the pupils would have been completed at the time of the announcement of schools’ closure March 13 due to COVID-19. The “majority” of teachers continued tuition using the internet, WhatsApp, telephone calls and printed material.
She said, “The nature of engagement would have varied, however, depending on the resources available e.g. devices, access, adult supervision/assistance in the home”.
There would have been varied home experiences. Mangroo stated, “some may have enjoyed enriching environments while at the other end of the spectrum, some may have suffered traumas for example, we know that two of the Standard Five students attending our schools lost their fathers over this period”.
The COVID-19 experience caused schools to step in to provide additional support to the households. At Rose Hill RC there were many challenges with families who were unable to satisfy “basic needs”. The principal and staff at Rose Hill gave funding to these families and got further assistance from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fr Gregory Augustine CSSp, principal of Fatima College and other community donors including Cornelia Campbell who has been consistent with her help.
“The support was constant as some of my parents were unable to access the Food Card and therefore, we had to step in to help them”, the Catholic News was informed by a school official. The school wanted parents to be “well equipped so they can focus on the children”.
At Rose Hill “we usually speak of love but the parents were able to see love in action during the crisis”.
The principal maintained regular communication to assist with any other challenges and respond to questions they had about their child’s education.
“We tried to be there to pull them through so that they knew that they were not alone; it helped us as well”. The principal did PowerPoint presentations including one on “self-care” for parents. They were asked to be alert and to look out for anything affecting their child’s well-being as help was available from the Ministry’s Student Support Service Division (SSSD).
The Standard Five teachers used konnect.com and online resources from the Ministry of Education and CEBM. The Catholic News Class Time pull-out pages were used to reinforce the work done online; pages were dropped off at the school for collection by parents. Some students received devices via the CEBM. The Catholic News was told parents and students are anxious for the SEA exam to be completed.
At Tunapuna Boys’ RC before the lockdown, the pupils were in exam preparation mode “fine tuning their exam techniques and skills”, a school official said. Students were using different platforms and daily newspapers with SEA exercises. Concerned the children would “peak” too soon caused the school to “pull back a bit” and use a “fun” approach for revision of areas which practice tests showed needed strengthening. “They will have questions to do but, in a puzzle form; it is for developing their problem-solving and their thinking skills but in their mind it’s a quiz…they were practising their work.” Different topics were given to practise Creative Writing.
Not all children had access to devices and of those who did, some had to wait until their parents were back from work to use them. Their parents were “first responders on the frontline”. There were children who had to share a device with a younger sibling who was given priority for “face-to-face” tuition.
“Our Standard Five really did not do much face to face. What we did was send the assignments and they would submit that to us and we would correct it. We were fortunate, we got devices from the [Catholic Education] board and Archdiocese that was able to help”.
The use of online resources reflected what occurred during the regular class time. The school official said, “the children who were working and diligent you saw that reflected in the online platform…and those who excuses were made either by them by the parents you kept getting those excuses.”
Education Minister Anthony Garcia has embarked on a series of schools’ visits. After a tour of Aranguez North Secondary and Charlieville Presbyterian School, he said the ministry was insisting on visits to schools to see the challenges they had before the exams including the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination which begin July 13. “We will be able to assist them in solving some of these problems,” he said. The SSSD was liaising with schools and parents. “Some of our officers are visiting homes of parents to ensure our students are comfortable.”