If St Lucia can do it…

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A Sunday newspaper of April 18 carries the following headline: “St Lucia pupils return to physical classes tomorrow.” The follow-up report continues that the St Lucia Ministry of Education, after consultation with the stakeholders, has decided that “educational institutions will operate from Monday to Friday on established school hours,” with some schools adopting the whole-school approach and others an alternate-day system involving a six-day cycle which provides at least three days of face-to-face instruction.

What is exciting about this decision is that the St Lucian authorities have recognised the importance of children returning to the classroom and have taken specific steps to achieve this goal, first and foremost by “consultation with the stakeholders” and, critically, arranging for face-to-face instruction in the classroom on both a full-time and part-time basis.

Does our government have the humility to inquire into this important decision to save the children by a small island-state and consider its feasibility? As a now retired educator, I have written letters to the editor about how our children, cognitively, are being slowly strangled to death by this continuing denial of the learning and socialising experience that the “school experience” would bring and aid in their psychological development. And others, including a regular newspaper icon, have joined in that chorus.

But schools continue to be locked down with every “spike” that emerges, and I am yet to fully understand the correlation, for “spikes,” as in this recent instance, are a matter of public disregard for covid19 protocols which should be dealt with by the law, if not at the level of individual responsibility, and appropriate covid19 structures should be put in place to manage the school situation as a separate issue, as perhaps may be the case in the St Lucia situation.

Previously much has been written about such structures to include parental supervision to and from school, covid19 stations in all schools including medical personnel for emergencies, individually supervised visits to washrooms, eliminating “breaks,” total “masking” for all present on the compound, especially within classrooms, shift attendance up until noon for at least three days (also to eliminate breaks), inter alia.

Yet the lockdowns continue. Maybe it is a lack of understanding among local officials of the critical psychological damage to students with this continuing closure or maybe its not in the political modus operandi for our governing politicians to “consult with stakeholders, as in St Lucia,” from outside the circle. Or in a related way, perhaps the politics of keeping the numbers down is a greater priority than the issue of the children’s continuing development, all this exacerbated by the fact of not having to account because of an indifferent public.

I indulge in this kind of speculation for in trying to find logic and good sense in this continuing attempt to lump the children in a general lockdown, I can find little. Maybe officials in their desperation are forced into the “one cap fits all” approach. But out of respect for the founding father’s exhortation to the children “that the future of the nation lies in your school bags,” they must make an effort to find comprehensive and creative ways to strike a balance between the risks of the children returning to the classroom and the irreparable psychological damage to them if they do not.

All are at risk with this rampaging covid19 but in the children’s favour is the scientific fact that they are less vulnerable and if some of the aforesaid protocols are put in place, is it not possible to avoid this damaging extremism of keeping them out of the classroom seemingly ad infinitum?

If St Lucia can, can we not?

DR ERROL N BENJAMIN