GUYANA: School Reopening: Poor handling, and possibly worse in the making – By GHK Lall

Encouraging Events, Disturbing Developments

I was against from the inception, disturbed that the Government and Minister of Education Priya Manickchand would rush ahead so recklessly and endanger our children, families, communities. My position is that the wisest course should be implemented, after all considerations have been given their rightful weight. Our children should be outside the regular politics that seeps into everything here. On school reopening, it should not be just yet.

Still, I am listening to and weighing what the Minister of Education offers, if only to let better heads prevail. Frankly, such heads do not include the Government, from its twin-headed leadership to most ministers. There are too many party hacks and political operators around.         

Again, I desire to give the Minister of Education the opportunity to present what is persuasive. She hasn’t; not in the least. She has been erratic and inconsistent; instill little confidence that children and nation are well served. She comes across as a councillor of the confusing.       

First, it was that schools were reopening in September, come hell or flooding; and that was that. For that to take place smoothly and efficiently, reach preset educational objectives, teachers are necessary. They had a problem, which their union made clear and ominously at an early hour. The next official word was that teachers had to get vaccinated, which sounded like mandatory to me. Then, it was that there was some flexibility, but only if they present a negative PCR report weekly. So, it was, and then it wasn’t, where vaccination was a ‘have to have.’ In money terms, one PCR test is about G$7,000, give or take, which totals to G$28,000 monthly. I think I can hear balking and bickering; resisting, too.

Second, there is choice: parents and sending out their children; parents and vaccination consenting; and, from before, teachers and vaccination. Alternatively, they all have the option to not do so. When there is a need for clear and decisive leadership from the Minister of Education, there is this hedging and talking from both sides of her mouth. Having backed herself into a corner with an early unilateral ministerial declaration from on high, the minister now scrambles to appear reasonable, flexible, to save some face.

Third: Then, on Friday, the minister announced what looks like a rush job scrambled in the throes of a hangover: a combination of the rotational and fixed attendance; with the latter makeshift (11% Nursery), guesswork (9% Primary), mysterious (‘several’ Secondary). The kindest thought is: experimental, small beginnings. A harsher one is that it dangerously forces the reopening issue without the thoroughness and profoundness circumstances demand. Considering these low startup numbers/percentages, I am convinced that with public commitment to an ill-conceived decision (reopening), it is roll the dice, and dismiss the downside. Doing something for the sake of doing something, to appear wise.

Fourth, the minister said that the reopening strategy and approach would be on a school-by-school basis. I have to question if the minister really does know what she is about. Out of ill-deserved respect, I refuse to use a word like ‘dunce.’ If I may, I suggest to the minister that a more enlightened manner in which to proceed with this sensitive issue would be to do so from a region-by-region thinking, working with the union. With reopening closer by a week, steamrolling parents will cause some backlash; sidelining union concerns is a mistake. I think that this could have been handled better, even with the limited, firmly set minds at the ministry’s high command.

Fifth, I think a hybrid learning approach-part in person, part remote classes, is better: cautious and gradualist class tactic necessitated by pandemic circumstances. Giving books and instructions help, but working to bridge gaps is better. I regret that the minister failed to grasp the essentials of what gives everyone breathing room to function, while taking care (more safely) to the educational needs of the young. Of course, it must be the PPP’s way, and no other. Problems brew. Governance must be about communication and cooperation; heavy-handed dictatorial tendencies, and leadership arrogance inevitably backfires.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Kaieteur News newspaper.)

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  • KN  On 09/01/2021 at 12:16 pm

    GHK is a master of the questionable art of bitching about any or anything our government does or doesn’t do but never once offers a constructive proposal for moving our country forward.

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