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TCI: New Minister announces Return to School for All Students with New School Hours

#TurksandCaicos, March 17, 2021 – All Students of the Turks and Caicos Islands will go back to school in five days; March 22nd is when the new Education Minister said a grand scale simulation-styled exercise will take place ahead of Easter.

“Mr. Speaker, we will also use this opportunity before the Easter Break to get students readjusted to their classes. Also, teachers, school administrators and the Department of Education will have the opportunity to identify any potential issues and work diligently to resolve these kinks over the Easter break,” said Hon Rachel Taylor, Minister of Education, Youth, Culture, Social & Library Services.

Hon Rachel Taylor during House of Assembly yesterday delivered the anticipated news and says she expects schools will review the test run, make adjustments and be ready for all students to return to school after the two-week Easter holiday.

“All students will return to face to face learning!  Some people are in awe!  How will it happen?  Mr. Speaker we are cognizant of the health protocols and the requirement for social distancing and we have taken into serious consideration all of these.  All schools will be allowed to function up to 200 children in a blended approach of face-to-face and online learning,” said Minister Taylor to thumping support from her parliamentary colleagues. 

Easter break said the Minister, who is a former primary school principal, will be used by officials to iron out any kinks in the system.

“In instances where students will be attending face-to-face classes, the following school operating hours will entail: In Primary Schools, 8:30 am to 2:30 pm; in secondary schools:  8:30am to 3pm.  Mr. Speaker, this is needed in our country in order that our children maximize best use of face to face delivery.”

While the announcement is refreshing, even welcomed for thousands of residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands, there is some ambivalence, including parents who are concerned for their higher risk children with medical conditions which make acute symptoms if they were to contract the coronavirus likely. 

To Magnetic Media, Educators wonder about logistics when it comes to classroom set up and news of regular testing for Covid-19.

There are others who say disappointments in the past give them pause before any revelations are made to their online-learing-wearied children; fearing a change in the current downward infection trend could force the Ministry of Education to rap-back the plan.

A change by the Ministry, at this point however, appears to be unlikely.  The plan as pitched by Minister Taylor does not lend to reversal nor does it prescribe a cookie-cutter return to face to face learning.

“The school administrators would be permitted to use and adopt any strategy which suits them but I must emphasise at any one time, only 200 students would be permitted in face-to-face classes, while the remainder of the students will continue to join classes remotely and alternate from time to time.”

There are some blanket rules; no more than 200 students permitted on premises at a time and all other protocols including mask wearing, santiser stations, handwashing stations, physical distancing and log books are non-negotiable.  The idea is a blended approach, which means some students in class, some students on virtual platforms in a remote learning style.

In her presentation, the Minister explained that it was long past due for there to be wider consideration of the impact on children of being out of the school setting for such an extended period. 

“Sometimes we only concentrate on those students who are preparing for examinations when we forget those children in the lower cohorts; infant, grade one, grade two, grade three but we want to give them the opportunity and allow the administrators to determine what is best allowing students from all grades to have an opportunity to seek learning face to face.”

Turks and Caicos campuses first closed due to the threat of Covid-19 in March 2020 during the Easter Break.  Some students have not been back in a classroom since.

Several false starts, namely in September 2020 and January 2021 have fostered doubt, but the Minister, who took office officially on February 22 said it is time for children to return and the decision is fueled by the desire of the People.

“These are exceptional times that have required all of us to take swift action and make drastic changes to our professional and personal lives to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.”

The presentation was made in the House of Assembly on Tuesday  March 16, 2021 in the afternoon session.

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