The COVID-19 pandemic has left long-term mental effects and distressing experiences relative to education in this country. The context in which schools operate has undergone numerous, rapid and drastic changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Undoubtedly, the government via the Ministry of Education has been scrambling to put appropriate measures in place to mitigate against the impact of the pandemic on education. They lack the foresight to do so. We in the New Democratic Party recognize that the process must ultimately involve Recovery, Revitalization or (Renewal) and Transformation, to safeguard the future of learning and schooling in our blessed country.
Over the past 2 years, teachers, students and parents have experienced much stress and anxiety with school and examinations. The emotional and mental impact (anguish) – must be adequately addressed and dealt with throughout the educational system. Access to mental health services must be readily available to those who are in need of such services to avoid mental health issues.
The Minister of Finance in his budgetary address said, and I quote, “As a population, our students were forced to deal with unprecedented disruptions, uncertainties and stress.” (p. 47). Marion House has been trying to meet the needs of some of those affected.
It must be remembered that our children were not just affected by physical schooling (which hinders the natural socialization process among children) and examinations, but some have lost parents and family members due to COVID-19 and may be adversely affected or traumatized. It must be remembered that the volcanic eruptions also contributed to the anxiety of students, teachers and parents. Studies show that children who have been isolated or quarantined during the pandemic have higher chances to develop acute stress disorder, adjustment disorder and grief.
While the focus is evidently to control the pandemic by implementing various preventative strategies, psychological support services for those students who may need extra support, especially regarding anxiety and depression is critical. No child must be left behind.
What have been done from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health to assist students and teachers to cope? I implore the relevant ministries to put the necessary resources in place to deal with these mental health issues.
Without doubt, our solutions must ultimately include the Re-engineering of the education system through the use of technology, to create a transformative environment that caters to the needs and success of all. The education system must create a multiple-faceted pathway of success for the diversity or varied abilities of our students at all levels, in our schools. The use of the technology is inextricably linked to the delivery of the curriculum during this period of the pandemic and times of emergencies. Our students’ success is dependent on it. At such provision, the government has failed.
There is obviously a widening gap in access to technology, education and learning between the haves and the have-nots. Indeed, while remote learning has enabled some students to continue their academic journey; others have fallen behind because of the lack of vital resources such as: devices for students – some not working, not sure of the present status of the program; reliable internet connectivity; electricity connections; adequately trained teachers in use of technology in delivery of curriculum; on-line platforms to take our educational institutions ahead of the curve; access to nutritional meals on the school feeding program –while schools were closed and the lack of educational institutions that are properly outfitted and equipped for physical and virtual learning.
The Minister of Finance alluded to another aspect, which we in the New Democratic Party have acknowledged as having contributed to the failure of online learning as implemented by the Ministry of Education. The Minister remarked, and I quote, “While teachers received at least basic instruction in the delivery of remote education, most students were involuntarily thrown into virtual classrooms and forced to adapt on the fly to new expectations, technologies and behaviours.” (pg. 49)
Long before the pandemic, we in the New Democratic Party had advocated for teacher training in the use of the technology for the delivery of the curriculum, in addition to utilizing persons who are technologically versed to work with teachers within the classroom to implement what is required. Keep in mind, the Minister of Finance said that teachers received at least basic instruction in the delivery of remote education. The New Democratic Party had also recommended that during the holiday period and shut down of school, that teacher training was essential to a successful implementation of remote learning. We had also recommended that recruits at the Teachers’ College be trained accordingly. We anticipated the need and had the foresight to make the recommendations.
Indeed, the lack of creativity and foresight speak directly to the government’s failure in the digitization of schools and educational institutions; in addition to, the one laptop per child initiative implemented in 2010 – 2011 and 2013 – 2014 which has failed miserably.
The Minister of Finance said, and I quote, “Remote and online classes forced students to attend school from home, where many had to cope with enormous distractions and other domestic issues. These distractions and domestic issues produced unacceptably high absenteeism rates at some schools.”
Up to this present time, internet access in some schools remains dismally poor. As a result, some students face difficulty in accessing internet connectivity to engage in on-line learning and also to meaningfully participate in examinations.
Because of these and other issues, some students may have fallen through the gap/cracks, while others are left behind. A major priority as we move forward, will be to address the needs of all those students who were left behind due to difficulties faced because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the volcanic eruptions. There will have to be some level of assessments to develop remedial programs. This is particularly relevant for those who live under dire economic circumstances and suffer setbacks in learning, because they did not have internet access, a learning device, a proper space to study, and suffering from socio-economic problems.
(Excerpts of the Hon. Terrance Ollivierre’s Budget Presentation)