Teachers and parents tell education officials that they need a "jab of common sense"
Last year, Dominica took an involuntary crash course in remote learning, and with the second wave of Covid-19 now causing a surge in numbers, the online platforms will yet again be utilized. But those who are to function with this new teaching style claim that they were given little consideration.
Education Minister Octavia Alfred recently announced that her government decided to postpone the reopening of schools, a decision, she said, was necessitated due to the recent Covid-19 spike affecting the island.
"The Ministry of Education understands the anxiety of our parents and students and we have spent the better part of the last three weeks in planning for the reopening of school," she said.
Alfred disclosed that from September 1 to 10, teachers will be engaged in planning and training.
"During this time, parents and the general public will also be engaged," she said.
Furthermore, the Minister noted that from September 13 to October 1, Fifth Form students will begin their online classes while students from 1st to 4th form and primary school pupils will begin instructions from October 4, 2021.
Alfred said the Ministry of Education is in the process of finalizing the model of instruction that will be utilized.
"Based on a survey carried out by the Minister of Education, all students moving from 4 to 5 have devices and also have their textbooks," she said. "We have a very low number of students who do not have access to the internet at home; these students will be accommodated at the primary schools in their villages taking into consideration the necessary protocols."
She said all teachers will work from their schools as schools have internet and devices for use by teachers.
Alfred pointed out that to formalize online learning, students will also follow a structured timetable.
"They will be in class from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. with six 45 minutes' sessions, two 15-minute eye and brain breaks, and one 20-minute snack break," the Minister said.
She further emphasized that all students are expected to dress in uniform while attending class even if they are at home.
"Classes will be monitored by education officers, principals, and lead teachers," she said.
Following the announcement, The Sun spoke to a few teachers and parents who are wary of the new measures that the education ministry announced.
"The education officials need a jab for common sense. We have expressed to them over and over again that the online platform is not effective," one teacher stated. "Imagine we have face-to-face learning and some of the students barely catch on so just imagine our struggles with virtual learning."
Another concern of the teachers is the fact that they were asked to report to school. According to a primary school educator, if the aim is to limit movement, they too should be allowed to remain at home. The teacher also expressed her frustration that an additional hour was added to their working day.
"The Minister said parents and students are anxious but made no mention of what teachers have to deal with. Most of us are parents so what do we do with our children who are now required to stay home. It's good that the MOE seems to care about the students but what about us."
Another senior educator said, during the time that Dominica was reportedly Covid-19 free, little to no planning was made for the possibility of another surge and said the MOE decision was rushed.
"We weren't ready last year but push came to shove but I certainly thought that when Dominica regained a sense of normalcy the Ministry would have done more to train teachers in online learning. We are now forced to undergo one week of training which is inadequate. So for this term we the teachers must grapple or sink," she said.
The teachers also voiced concerns over the technological infrastructure at the schools which they say is woefully inadequate to carry out their function effectively.
For the parents we spoke to getting back to work requires functioning school systems, and with the new measures announced this poses challenges.
A Bath Estate mother, Jacqueline St. Jean recommended that a shift system be implemented for the opening of the school year.
She further stated that the Ministry's decision to demand that students be attired in full uniform for home classes is an added expense on the parents.
"I really don't know if is the vaccine that affecting this government's decision making but they need to take one for them to make better decisions," the irate mother voiced.
"To ask parents in this hard economic time to go out and buy uniforms only for a child to sit at home is nonsense and no support has been given to us struggling parents but the government making things harder for us," she said.
Another parent said, though he applauds the MOE efforts to educate the students, he also holds that other options could be explored to accommodate not only teachers and students but working parents.
The Sun attempted to contact the President of the Dominica Teachers Association (DTA) for comment on the matter but all efforts were futile.