Teachers, parents and students all across this country were sent scrambling in a colossal frenzy on Wednesday when it was announced that the Government had approved the phased reopening of schools. This then means that after being out of the classroom for a year, schools are now allowed to once again welcome children back into the classroom, safely, that is. Naturally, in our mind we knew it was coming. With children having been out of school for a year, the rollout of the inoculation program coupled with the COVID-19 numbers trending downwards and perhaps even toward herd immunity, the reopening of schools across this country was inevitable. So, with the Cabinet having green-lighted such a move, well, the bell has rung and school has been called in.
As it relates to the reopening of schools in Belize, I did a quick impromptu survey and gauged sentiments from teachers, parents and students alike. The general sentiments gathered from this group are a collective feeling of ambivalence. In layman’s terms, as it relates to the reopening of schools and the return to face-to-face instruction, teachers, parents and students are “on the fence” — they are uncertain and kinda “shaky” on the matter. However, that level of ambivalence doesn’t come from the actual reopening of schools itself. It is derived from two very pertinent issues. The first is the state of limbo that COVID-19 has placed us in, so all parties are concerned about the safety surrounding the return to school. Then, furthermore, given the dire economic situation in the country currently, what I gathered is that parents are concerned about the “timing” to get their children ready for a safe return to school.
In my mind, both concerns are valid and should be given much credence and taken into consideration. I, for one, applaud the effort being made to return our children to face-to- face instruction. However, we have to be extremely prudent about it. We also have to seek earnestly to be understanding of each child, parents and their family’s unique position. I ardently believe that it is the right move – it is the right thing to do. However, it must be done with health and safety for teachers, students and parents as a priority. The health and safety of our teachers and students cannot be taken lightly and short-changed in any regard. So the adequate and requisite infrastructure, policies and guidelines need to be in place to ensure safety and security for the molders and our future generation.
In addition to safety being paramount in safely reopening schools, we have to do so with a view to ensure that nobody is left disenfranchised in this regard. The statistics that we currently face are glaring. Almost 130,000 Belizeans are either unemployed or underemployed. This means that parents across this country may not have the advance capital and the requisite startup available to procure the materials and resources that are so synonymous with going to school. We have to ensure that when school reopens for children to return to the classrooms, that nobody is left behind. It must not be a case where only the “haves” are able to benefit from this move and the indigent and marginalized will be left out. As much as it is our quest to reopen schools, it must be done with a view to reopening schools for everyone, leaving no one behind.
Furthermore, we have to take the concerns of teachers into consideration as well, with a view to ensure that their return to face-to-face instruction will not only be safe, but will be an effective and an efficient one. Teachers endured a year and more of adaptation to distant learning and, needless to say, it has been an arduous and a laborious one. It was a task for the heavens when teachers had to plan lessons and units, prepare activities and compile packages, print, collate and distribute these packages, and still had to do online video lessons. All this to say that if it is we are returning to face-to-face instruction, the work of the teacher must be taken into consideration. What do I mean, or what am I getting at here? The stakeholders need to ensure that a wide majority, if not all, students are able to return to school, because if that’s not the case, then the work of the teacher will be further compounded and made more complicated. If only half of the students return to classes, the teacher will then be forced to plan and teach for the half who returned for in-class instruction and will then be required to (still) prepare packages for those who haven’t returned, in addition to sending online video lessons. If this happens, it will burn out the teachers and reduce their level of efficiency and efficacy.
Therefore, in concluding, I believe that the move to reopen schools and return to in-class instruction is a good one. However, there is work to be done in the ensuing weeks to enact the requisite protocols to ensure a smooth and seamless return. Everybody should be valued and all concerns should be heard in an effort to quell any fears that teachers, parents or students may have. In order for this process to work and work well, it must be efficient. For me, what’s most important is ensuring that such a reopening will be safe for all parties involved. To ensure that the reopening of schools will be effective and efficient in transitioning (all) back to in-class instruction and most importantly, that pegs will be put in place to ensure that nobody (especially those who are destitute and marginalized) is left behind.
Unchained Reflections Of A Liberal Pragmatist