MESSAGE BY HON. EMMALIN PIERRE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION ON REOPENING OF SCHOOLS
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I greet you at a time when we are all affected by a global pandemic impacting the way that we live and function. Around the world, more than 25 million people have contracted the coronavirus, with close to 900 thousand deaths. Although at home we have to be extremely grateful that we have had no deaths, and only 24 individuals have contracted the virus, the last five months were extremely challenging for all of us, as stakeholders in education. Looking back now, I believe that we can all be encouraged by the words of the Holy Scriptures and I quote, “...but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts”. I therefore express, again, my sincerest appreciation to all stakeholders, principals, teachers, parents, students, school managers, ancillary staff, the Grenada Union of Teachers, funding agencies, other Government Ministries and staff of the Ministry of Education. The achievements we had during this period are testament not just to what we can accomplish in education reform, but they must also give us the impetus to continue pushing ahead, with great excitement and passion, knowing that there is hope, and that together we can create the enabling conditions for every child to succeed. To keep our children at home indefinitely is not an option we are prepared to consider at this time, but we need all hands on deck to make schooling happen for Grenada and for our children’s sake. As we prepare for the start of the Michaelmas term - September 7th to December 11th, 2020 - we know that as we journey, there will be challenges. We will need added wisdom, grace and strength to succeed, but I encourage you that it is the Lord who goes before you. “He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed”. This scripture has helped to shape the national theme for this school year: ‘Trusting God, We Will Pursue our Goals with Determination - Every Child Can Succeed’. This will also be the theme for the hour of prayer, which marks the start of every new school term. The reopening of school will be done in phases, to ensure that we prepare students mentally for the return to regular classroom routines. This staggered approach also makes provision for engagement with parents, the collection of data to inform critical decisions, assessment of students and the continued programme of training, retraining and retooling of our teachers. During this term, we will also distribute devices to our teachers and students at the secondary school level. Therefore, within the first week of school we expect only one grade or form to attend school on any given day of the week. Secondary school principals will make minor changes to the schedule for the first week due to some prevailing circumstances, and have committed to ensuring that all parents will be made aware of their school-specific schedules. These schools are:- 1. Wesley College 2. Anglican High School 3. SJC Grenville 4. St. Andrew's Anglican Secondary School 5. Grenada Christian Academy 6. St. John’s Christian 7. St. Rose Modern Secondary School 8. Grenada Seventh Day Adventist Comprehensive 9. Victoria School for Special Education All other schools will use our national standard schedule during the first and second week. Thereafter, their school- specific plan will kick in. The plan for week one will be shared immediately after my address. The second week of school will mainly engage parents. This engagement is extremely important, because parents will be provided with important information that will help them to better support their children in coping with this new normal. Additionally, some general information has to be collected from parents, so that the school and Ministry can make important decisions to cater for all students. During this second week, all students will remain at home, except for special arrangements that a specific school may notify you of. The schedule for week two will be published on Tuesday after everyone would have been clear on week one’s schedule. During the third week, students will be engaged in assessments, which will be administered solely for the purpose of determining the academic needs of the students. For these assessments, students will be provided with a schedule by their respective schools. Regular or normal teaching and learning activities are expected to commence in the 4th week of September. While I know many are anxious to return to academics, please note that the experts have advised against a rush to start these activities, as a poorly timed process can have serious negative effects on a child. Again, we do not advocate rushing into academic activities in the first three (3) weeks, but the focus will be on orientation, sensitization, and psychosocial support and needs assessment. As we unfold this plan, there are three major challenges we face: limited finances, limited space and the need to implement a blended approach, but we can overcome these challenges together. Despite a significant drop in revenue and the challenge of meeting its recurrent financial responsibilities, Government has committed an additional $1.9 million dollars just for additional support services and supplies for the next 4 months. This figure does not include the $50 million dollars allocated to school repairs and the $21 million already committed, since the start of COVID-19, to cover e-learning activities, resources and other support for schools. I therefore want to recognise and appreciate the support of the Minister for Finance and all my cabinet colleagues for their support in making all this possible. Such investments in these difficult times, are indicative of the commitment to the nation's children - our future. When these regular class sessions begin, some schools may be forced to do a blended approach, combining face-to-face and online learning. This may be necessary, due to limited space. Although the National COVID-19 Committee has just approved the 3ft physical distancing in the classroom, schools will implement it based on their level of comfort. Schools will employ their own strategies for blended learning as each school is unique. The school-specific plans must be approved by the Ministry of Education, to ensure basic standards are maintained. The protocol used in the last school term has been revised, with minor amendments, and shared with all schools. We expect that every parent and guardian will give their fullest support, as schools seek to implement the protocol for their child’s safety. One of the key responsibilities of parents is to provide a mask to help protect their child. Supplies for cleaning and sanitizing will be provided both by the Ministry and the school, through the regular subvention provided, and by the Ministry of Education. However, I appeal to parents who are able to afford it to also provide their children with at least additional hand sanitizers.
Given the limited time for this address, I have selected some other areas in which work has started, and to which we will give extra focus this term. They are not in order of priority. 1. Improving partnership arrangements with key stakeholders 2. Improving efficiency and services to stakeholders 1. Support and recognition of outstanding principals and teachers 2. Improving school management by appointing managers and a board of management in every school 3. Improving standards for operation and accountability systems 4. Expansion and strengthening of our values-based program 5. Curriculum reform and strengthening of the curriculum unit 6. Teacher education and in-service training 7. Improving students’ performance at all levels 8. Expansion of our skills training programme based on industry demands 9. Strengthening of the Special Needs Unit 10.Auditing and restructuring of the Student Support Services Unit 11.Special intervention programme for at-risk students 12.Special intervention programme for 5 selected schools 13.Engagement and promotion of local authors 14.Finalising of 12 policies and the regulations for the Education Act 15.Review of the Education Act So, as I close, I encourage you to let us go forth, committing that those who come behind us will find us faithful. The words of one of my favourite song ends with these very profound words: “After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone and our children sift through all we've left behind, may the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover, become the light that leads them to the road we each must find. May all who come behind us find us faithful.” May God bless us all.