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October 5th is the targetted date for the reopening of schools in the Bahamas.
New Providence, Abaco and Eleuthera will engage in online learning, while schools in Grand Bahama and other Family Islands will offer face-to-face learning.
Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd in a report to the nation announced that an increase in the infection rate of the COVID-19 in New Providence and Family Islands has forced the Department of Education to urgently plan and consider the reopening of schools, which was previously scheduled to reopen September 21st.
However, Bahamas Union of Teachers Belinda Wilson is lamenting that education officials did not confer the new date with the union and is asking education officials for the policy that will govern online and in-person learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Will online learning cause problems?
Some teachers have taken to social media to vent their frustrations about the logistics of reopening schools, questioning if the government will provide the digital devices for the teaching instructions, how to ensure student attendance in online learning, and the care of their children as they teach online classes.
Director of Education Marcellus Taylor said employers, to the extent that they can, should consider some levels of flexibility around working arrangements or allowing children to come along with their parents to work, if possible.
He added that attendance officers will ensure the attendance of students, and resource packages will be issued to students without access to the internet and a computer.
Wilson, appearing on Beyond the Headlines, queried the number of hours given for students in a virtual setting, saying the officials assigned too many hours for students to sit and learn virtually.
She also questioned how teachers will assess students’ examinations and quizzes, and how administrators will assess teachers’ performance.
Dr. Ebby Jackson proprietor of Palmdale Vision Center said the online learning has a negative effect on the eyes. Jackson appearing on Beyond the Headlines said eyes were not made to be locked onto a computer screen for long periods of time, which she said will be problematic for teachers, parents, and the students, particularly if either party suffers from an underlying condition.
What are the risks of in-person schooling?
While online learning may present some economic and social impediments, face-to-face classes present clear public health risks to the physical reopening of schools. Though not surging in the Family Islands, COVID-19 cases are springing up.
And schools bring together hundreds of students, which may present a challenge with talking and camaraderie during the lunch period, which experts say cause the virus to spread.
However, most schools on the islands have small population sizes, and Taylor said these schools permit for social distancing, in contrast to schools in New Providence.
Officials announced that students will be spaced 3 feet apart in the classroom, but Wilson is calling for 6 feet spacing, as stipulated for social protocols.
Wilson questioned the class sizes under which teachers will be expected to engage students and implored that education officials install acrylic or plexiglass sheets around the desks of teachers, to reduce the spread.