MoE: We won’t put children’s education at risk; physical school reopens for ALL forms 4-6 students

EPL Infrafred Sauna

Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly announced today that all students from forms four to six ‘and their equivalents’ must resume physical school on Monday 25 October, regardless of vaccination status.

Online schooling will be discontinued for such forms from Monday. However, forms one to three will remain online for the rest of the school term before they also return to physical classes from January 2022.

Photo: Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly.
(via Newsday)

There is no change for primary schools or ECCE students, who ‘will continue to operate remotely’.

Dr Gadsby-Dolly pointed to statistics that showed a slide in academic performances in Trinidad and Tobago as well as the rest of the world, which was partially down to disruptions in their education due to issues related to online schooling.

The government hoped that students and teachers would become vaccinated, so as to safeguard against serious illness due to Covid-19. 

However, with little indication that teachers and students were rushing to get vaccinated, low attendance and teachers generally unwilling to cater for both sets of students—while even vaccinated students complained of teachers being unwilling to teach small classes—the Ministry of Education has opened up physical school for everyone.

Photo: Students at the Gandhi Memorial Vedic School during a visit by Ministry of Education officials in 2020.
(via Ministry of Education)

“Based on what is happening, we do not have the numbers to suggest that children will be returning in the required amounts anytime soon,” said Dr Gadsby-Dolly, “and we do not want to put the education of children at risk.

“[…] Parents have taken the decision not to vaccinate their children; the government respects their wishes.”

The Minister of Education, asked by a reporter about the possibility of mandatory vaccines, reiterated that the Trinidad and Tobago Government continues to respect its citizens’ right to choose.

“At this time, the government has done all it can to provide the vaccines for both students and teachers,” she said. “[…] It is down now to choice.”

Ministry of Education release:

Ministers of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly and Lisa Morris-Julian, along with officials of the Ministry of Education, met with TTUTA and the wider education stakeholders on 13 and 14 October 2021 respectively. At these meetings, discussions were held on the current physical operations of schools, along with proposed changes for the immediate future.

Photo: Ministers of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly (left) and Lisa Morris-Julian visit students at the Gandhi Memorial Vedic School during the Covid-19 pandemic.
(via Ministry of Education)

For the past two weeks, only vaccinated students of Forms 4-6 (or equivalent) have been in physical attendance at school, based on the advice of the Ministry of Health.

During this time, data was collected on student vaccination rates, daily physical attendance and the methods of operation used by schools to teach students who were not in physical attendance. The daily number of Covid-19 positive cases as reported by the Ministry of Health was also monitored.

Data from the Ministry of Health as of 19 October 2021 indicates that 49,853 (54%) of students aged 12-18 have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and 36,540 (40%) have received their second dose.

Data collected by the MOE as of 10 October 2021 indicates that 30% of the Forms 4-6 cohort is at this time fully vaccinated—34% of denominational schools have reported more than 50% of their Forms 4-6 students fully vaccinated, while 1% of government schools indicated the same.

Photo: El Dorado West Secondary student Ashlee Ramoutar (right) receives her Covid-19 vaccine from pharmacist Elisha Sankar.
(Copyright Lou-Ann Sankar)

Attendance data collected over the past two weeks has shown that school attendance is consistently lower in the government secondary schools, with an average of 50% of the eligible cohort attending school physically. 

For the denominational and private schools, the attendance averaged 80% of the eligible cohort and continued to increase; in some cases, the attendance was as high as 95% at the end of the two-week period.

The result of these trends in vaccination and attendance is that teaching of the Forms 4-6 cohort is taking place mainly online, though provisions have been made by the government for the students’ safe return to the physical classroom.

Analysis of the results of the SEA and CXC examinations in 2021 provide evidence of the globally predicted decrease in student performance which can be attributed, in part, to students’ absence from the physical school environment during the pandemic.

Image: Online education has supposedly exacerbated societal inequalities.

In SEA 2021, 1.5% more students scored over 90% when compared with 2020, however, 6.7% more students scored under 30%. In CXC examinations, the results of which were released on 15 October 2021, 7% less students obtained five CSEC passes or more in 2021 than in 2020; and 1.3% less acceptable grades were achieved in CAPE 2021 when compared with 2020.

One of the main factors in arresting any decline in student achievement during this pandemic is the safe return of all our students to the physical classroom for more effective teaching and learning.

While the Ministry of Education has supplied, and continues to supply laptops and MiFi devices to teachers and students to facilitate remote learning, the stated policy of the Government has been the movement of our students back to the physical classroom, safely, as soon as possible.

The devices distributed would then be used for blended curriculum delivery, as is best practice worldwide. The Government does not hold, nor accept the position that the physical return of students to the classroom should be further delayed.

Photo: Is education a level playing field?

However, a phased approach to reopening the Education Sector, as for all other sectors, must be utilised to ensure the safety of all school personnel, and to gauge the effect of increased population movement on our COVID-19 infection rates. Though we are forging ahead towards normalcy, we must be mindful that we are still operating in a pandemic, and all decisions must be contextualised by this reality. The Government will therefore continue this measured approach, allowing secondary students to return to school physically in phases.

Based on the feedback from all stakeholders, the results of the CXC examinations, the student vaccination and attendance trends, as well as the national Covid-19 infection data over the last two weeks, the following decisions have therefore been taken to guide the operations of secondary schools for the duration of Term 1 2021/22:

  1. All students of Forms 4-6 or equivalent, regardless of vaccination status, are required to attend school physically for teaching classes, practicals and school-based assessments from Monday 25 October 2021.
  2. Schools are not required to provide online classes or synchronous sessions for students of Forms 4-6 or equivalent in lieu of student attendance at physical classes. All students are expected to attend school physically.
  3. Schools are required to place special focus on the completion of practicals and school-based assessments for students of Forms 4-6 at this time.
  4. Students at Special Schools, along with their support staff, are allowed to attend school physically according to suitable rotational schedules devised by principals.
  5. Students of Forms 1-3 or equivalent are required to remain engaged in remote learning. Unless otherwise advised, these students will return to the physical classroom in January, 2022, Term II of Academic Year 2021/22.
  6. Principals may request permission from the Ministry of Education to have their Forms 1-3 students physically visit the school for orientation exercises during Term I, if required.

ECCE Centres, Primary Schools and Tertiary level teaching classes will continue to operate remotely at this time.

Photo: A Johannesburg school is sanitised as South Africa prepares to reopen its education system.
(Copyright Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency)

As secondary students lead in making the transition back to the classroom, the Government holds out to parents that Covid-19 vaccines are available, and continue to be the best protection against becoming grievously ill if students contract the virus. Parents are therefore strongly encouraged to vaccinate their children as they return to the classroom.

The Guidelines for School Reopening will be updated to reflect the decisions taken, and reissued to principals, with the requisite Circular Memorandum.

The Ministry lauds the efforts of all staff, stakeholders, parents, teachers, middle management, and principals in meeting the needs of our students in these challenging times of the pandemic. Our continued cooperation and commitment during this transitionary period will result in the best outcome possible for our students of Trinidad and Tobago.

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One comment

  1. Good. Everybody back to school. Who get sick, get sick. Who dead, dead. That’s what the anti-vaxxers wanted. That’s what TTUTA wanted. No more ole talk. Let the anti-vaxxers hush when we get the spike. Let them stay away from the government hospital too. Be careful what you ask for in your ignorance.

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