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Education fumbles again; Minister recommends vaccine to help get children back in school

#TurksandCaicos, February 3, 2021 – People know the times are challenging; plans, no matter how thoroughly constructed are crumbling in the face of the unpredictability of the coronavirus pandemic.  What residents are hard- pressed to grasp however, is the lack of communication from the Turks and Caicos Ministry of Education.

For the fourth time, the Ministry has fallen short when it comes to communicating in a timely manner with the nation about decisions related to school and the return to in person learning.

These benchmark moments include the start of the 2020-2021 Academic year; the review of the start which was promised in time for October 2020; the New Year term in January and a review of this second term and the way forward, which never came until Sunday January 31, mere hours before students were expecting to return to their various campuses.

“As a result of the rapidly rising number of COVID-19 cases, phase 5 of the Roadmap anticipated on January 4th had to be deferred at least until 29th January when the situation would be reassessed to determine the feasibility of reopening schools for in class instruction,” said the Ministry of Education in the selectively released statement.

Karen Malcolm, Turks and Caicos Islands Minister of Education, Youth, Culture, Social and Library Services was on Monday taking her second jab of the Covid-19 vaccine; following the shot she said:

“Parents get vaccinated. We need to get back to normal, some sort of normalcy so we can get our children back in school.”

No national address on radio or television.  No message of encouragement for students who are suffering severe emotional distress and confusion during this unprecedented season.  A missed opportunity to convey warmth, empathy, support and appreciation to the thousands of residents impacted by the otherwise expected decision.

The mute is maddening, but the Sunday statement explained:

“During this interim period, we have experienced further elevations to the rate of infection in the Turks and Caicos Islands, having realized our largest number of confirmed new cases this week. Considering the health factors, the Ministry of Education, in consultation with the Ministry of Health, has arrived at the following decisions: 

Effective 1st February, all schools will continue with online learning only. This position will be re-evaluated by 10th February, 2021.  Students of 4th and 5th forms are allowed on campus only for SBAs and other practical assessments, external examinations and mock examinations.  The Ministry will provide a subsequent update on the implementation of Phase 5 of the Road-map and plans for the final school term.”

During a press conference, Edwin Astwood, the Minister of Health clued the nation in to what was coming.  No return to school for any student unless their external exam requirements or preparation requires them to be onsite.

The Health Minister also agreed teachers, who opted to have the vaccine, should get the shots.  That option may be off the table for now, as the first batch of 9,750 doses has now been exhausted.

The littlest learners have been allowed into schools, whose sites are approved by the Ministry of Health.  Far more kindergartens and daycare centres are open for service.

At least two schools had been affected by COVID in the first semester of the academic year, informed the Ministry of Health.  The high school in South Caicos and an unidentified school in Providenciales were closed for sanitization when a Covid-positive case(s) was linked to the institutions.   

The Ministry described the term as successful.

“After achieving a successful transition from phase 1-3 of the Road-map for the Reopening of schools, the Ministry of Education adopted a modified version of phase 4 which saw only grades 5 and 6 students return to in class instructions. Meanwhile, students of forms 5 and 6 continued in class tutelage while all other students participating virtually in a blended scheme.”

In the past two days, there has been little testing and no new cases.  By February 10, which is when business hours and curfew regulations expire, the country will get direction on what is next for schools and the over 4,300 students.

“We appreciate the level of understanding by teachers and parents as we navigate through these challenging times,” said the Ministry it its press release.

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