With the 1st anniversary of the closure of schools across the country because of the Coronavirus pandemic approaching, the former Minister of Education and her successor clashed in the National Assembly today about how the education sector has been handling the situation.
As the budget debates entered Day Three, APNU+AFC Member of Parliament and former Education Minister Nicolette Henry told the House that the Government has failed to make education delivery during the pandemic a priority issue.
She said many families in difficult circumstances have been affected and the Education Ministry appears to have no clear plan to address their needs.
“I have had to ask whether anyone sitting here on the Government side can articulate where in this budget are the most vulnerable young people catered for, in terms of in-school and or blended intervention for most at-risk populations. This is a serious matter, parents are reaching out every day for assistance with remote learning. As these debates are ongoing, many students including teenage mothers and other disadvantaged populations, including learners from low-income households and remote areas have not yet been engaged meaningfully for the new school year which began last year”, Ms. Henry said.
The Ministry of Education has been making worksheets available to students for completion at home. While some teachers in the public sector have been engaging in online teaching, many students have not been able to be apart of those virtual teaching sessions because of their inability to access the internet.
The former Education Minister said the situation is unfortunate and must be addressed.
According to Opposition MP, while the problems facing many of the country’s teachers, parents and students are known, the budget does not appear to cater to their needs as schools remain closed.
“Many people in difficult circumstances are not satisfied with the Ministry’s efforts, and yet this budget is void of any measure to address our most disadvantaged and marginalised students”, she said.
In response, Education Minister Priya Manickchand argued that the Ministry has been making efforts to reach out to those students who have found themselves locked down in at home learning.
“From the 2nd August to Boxing Day, we had done worksheets, we had employed the learning channel towards learning, we had reopened schools for the exam classes, we had put instructions on the radio, we had started online teaching. So all these fancy plans the Honorable Member said she had, she was in place for the same time that we were in place and didn’t put them in place”, Minister Manickchand told the Assembly.
The Education Minister also spoke about the various rounds of consultations that her Ministry has hosted with educators and parents about the way forward and the best ways to address the needs of children who are out of school because of the pandemic.
According to Manickchand, “based on consultations with teachers, parents and students, we reopened 4th, 5th and 6th Forms, but we said to the parents and students that if you do not want to come, that’s fine, we will support your learning at home. And when we opened we ensured all of the schools were cleaned and sanitized and we gave each student and teacher sanitizing equipment, face masks, face shields and vitamins support. Our little Guyana was one of the only countries that gave so many things to each teacher and student”.
Minister Manickchand also highlighted that The Learning Channel is now being used to broadcast curriculum instructions. She revealed that the channel will be expanded with five additional channels being added.
According to the Education Minister, it will also be expanded to the hinterland communities and television sets and satellite receivers will be provided to the indigenous communities to assist with the education process.
Schools across Guyana shut their doors in March 2020 on the advice of the Health Ministry as the country recorded its first set of COVID-19 cases. While there has been a gradual reopening of the various sectors in the country, schools remain closed and there is worry globally about the longterm impact the extended closure could have on students.
The Education Ministry in Guyana has indicated that it will be guided by the Health Ministry on any planned reopening.