Tue | Nov 24, 2020

Glenn Tucker | Back to school in a pandemic

Published:Thursday | October 29, 2020 | 12:14 AM

No thinking person would envy the challenges facing educational administrators at this time. It is like riding a bicycle at night from Harbour View to Nine Miles, Bull Bay, during the recent flooding.

Primarily because many of us have no regard for those around us, there in a spike in the number of cases and deaths from the COVID-19 virus. Many of us are guided by the pronouncements of popular figures. So when one spouts an asinin1ty, like “… Mi nah wear nuh mask … mask nuh mek fi man …,” persons in that orbit are guided by that kind of impetuous inanity and do likewise.

The minibuses transporting most of these children are super spreaders. ‘Ductors -- who pack these children laterally and horizontally to make space -- do not require masks and would transport a crocodile, as long as it can pay.

The suggestions to practise social distancing among children also betrays the absence of logic that typifies many of the other suggestions. We may move around desks, cut down class size, demand masks and explain why. But as soon as the recess bell rings, they will be shouting at each other from a distance of 12 inches, hugging, wrestling and swapping masks. Truth be told, children are walking petrie dishes.

Much of the concerns seem to centre around how to ‘make up’ for the missing months. But is that all? I looked at the workbooks of the children of two acquaintances of mine and asked some questions based on what they had covered in the months prior to the appearance of COVID-19. And -- you may have guessed it -- they had no idea what I was talking about. What I found was what I suspect may be responsible for lower-than-expected grades in CSEC and other exams. During the break, there was a failure to maintain skills. And this loss of learned skills could make ‘moving forward’ problematic for all concerned. The fancy word for what I am talking about is ‘regression’. The really first-class teacher may be able to detect that some students are unable to store concepts in their long-term memory in a way that can be easily recalled. Depending on their ages and the way concepts are taught, they may need varying amounts of additional instruction to ‘recoup’, then ‘catch up’. The best remedy for regression, however, is to prevent it from happening. These holidays, particularly the endless summer one, are major contributors. It is a foreign concept introduced to make children available to assist parents with harvesting on the family farm. Sort of like how some of our classmates did not go to ‘Friday’ school.

Resistance to New Ideas

Over the years, I have found a powerful resistance to new ideas in the field of education. Incredibly, this resistance often came from teacher representatives, particularly when the government is represented by a certain party. I am not a party member, so I will make this recommendation. It is that after evaluation of the various anachronisms of this ‘agrarian’ school calendar, I would recommend a year-round school calendar. It would offer the same number of days, but it would be redistributed with a schedule of short instruction periods that alternate with shorter breaks across the whole year.

The present online arrangement is leaving many students behind. The involvement of parents is critical. However, in a system dominated by single mothers, many of them discovering for the first time that they are victims of the same regression mentioned earlier, they can do little more than encourage. The cell phone and tablet is a less-than- ideal system for remote learning when there is no parent or coach available.

There are financial and logistical implications. Other challenges include time management, computer literacy, technical issues and an adaptability struggle. These need to be solved through proper initiatives for the students’ future benefit.

There is the hope of many that this pandemic will soon be behind us, partly because snake-oil salesmen like President Trump promised vaccines “in weeks”. Well, I have toiled upwards for many nights, pouring over literature related to COVID-19 vaccine testing. I do not expect any results until this time next year. But that is not all. Nowhere in the hundreds of pages was I able to find one word. That word is ‘children’. What will be unveiled next year will be for adults. Educational planners need to bear this in mind.

During this period, children may appear grumpy, irritable, stressed and scared. There may be depression, social withdrawal and crying. Routines -- like getting up at a certain time, meeting friends, eating at a certain time -- give structure and a framework they can rely on. It is of paramount importance that this is understood by adults. Because it is routine and structure, more than anything else, that gives them a feeling of safety and comfort.

Glenn Tucker is an educator and a sociologist. Email: glenntucker2011@gmail.com