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Thursday, June 4, 2020
Home Letters COVID-19: The battle between education and survival 

COVID-19: The battle between education and survival 

As I listen intently to all the collective concerns of teachers, parents and students alike with regard to the direction of education in these critical times of uncertainty, there are mixed feelings as to the level of engagement that students purportedly need or should be receiving during this time.

There are the advocates who believe that students should be getting “pound for pound” work, aligned against the curriculum and measured by proper activities and assessments.

Then, on the contrary, there are the persons who believe that as long as students are meaningfully engaged, the primary concern should be to keep them safe and healthy so that we can get through this together.

But amidst the mixed sentiments and opposing views regarding the direction of education during COVID-19, one must beg the question, how do we proceed?

Clearly, without a shadow of a doubt, COVID-19 has taken a massive toll on everyone. It has essentially dealt us a very low blow and a “stiff hand”. In more ways than one, it has left us confused and, in some cases, cringing in “survival mode”.

Amidst all that is taking place around us, and all that is falling apart around us, is it prudent to bombard parents and students with pedagogically designed and rigorous curriculum-tailored activities coupled by or compounded with further assessment? In my most humble view, the simple answer to that question is NO!

Looking at the overall demographics of Belize, we are living in a poverty-stricken country. The masses of our people depend on work (be it formal or informal) to live day to day and sustain their livelihood. And with basically everything coming to a screeching halt, our collective livelihoods have been basically shattered, if not totally dissipated.

This then means that parents are at home struggling to keep their household together, pondering ways to “kickstart” a meal, and then resting uneasy at the sheer precipice of what tomorrow would look like.

Now, fast forward to the persistent struggles and strife that these families across the country are facing, compounded by feelings of frustration and anxiety — how can we reasonably expect these parents to didactically guide and scaffold these children in formal instruction and activities to be culminated by summative assessment?

That is absolutely ludicrous and egregious in all regards! As educators, it is very easy for us to sit on the opposite end of our desks and from our collective purviews, collate and compile an array of structured pedagogical activities and assessment for students.

But the real task for us as educators is to be able to constructively sit on our side of the desk and take a minute to consider the positions of our students and our parents, who are in dire situations as a result of this pandemic.

See, it is rather easy for “full belly to tell hungry belly to keep heart”. It is rather easy for educators to rationalize the purported quote on “importance of school work and further assessment” to seek to ensure pedagogical continuity.

But have we as educators considered that the most important daily (if not hourly) quest for a great majority of our students and their parents is merely survival and maintaining adequate health and a decent nutrition?

Have we considered the position that they are in? Resource-stricken and struggling to manage the little they have while subscribing to measures and practices of austerity caused by curtailing in every regard?

Nonetheless, formal education is indeed important, and it has its place and its role in the development of a progressive society. However, our primary concern and focus at this time should be the safety, security and health of our people. If we are able to remain healthy and survive this, there will be ample time and opportunities to restart the economy, re-open businesses and establishments and naturally, to bring students back up to speed.

There really isn’t the dire need to seek to bombard students with pedagogical and curriculum-based work and assessment. It will be of very little use or value, except that it will further overwhelm and frustrate both parents and students alike.

Therefore, in closing, while I fully agree that education is important and that there needs to be a level of educational engagement maintained among students, this certainly is not the time for rigorous curriculum-based assignments and assessments.

There are many informal activities that can be shared with students and that they can be engaged in to stimulate and engage them. My subtle message to our esteemed educators is to consider the students you teach and claim that you dearly love.

Ask yourself: is it beneficial to compound insult to injury? Is all the stringent curricular work and assessment that important at this critical and crucial time?

I implore educators across the country to find ways to spread love and cheer, support and assist your students and parents where possible; and if and where possible, share meaningful and engaging activities that will keep students engaged; nothing strenuous or burdensome.

I trust that given your collective aptitudes, skills and talents as esteemed educators, in due time you will be able to bring your students up to speed and move them forward when that time comes.

Empathy over pride.
God Bless Belize!

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