Now that schools are getting ready for summer break, many principals, teachers and parents are looking forward to the summer adventures. We are all aware of the challenges the education system has faced due to the pandemic and the effect that these challenges have had on practitioners, principals, parents and children. Today’s article focuses on the lessons we have learnt from our interaction with the ECIs, and parents.
Challenges with Face-to-face Reopening of Schools
Following the initial outbreak in March 2020, schools were shuttered by the government; however, attempts to reopen schools face-to-face was postponed due to frequent community outbreaks and clusters in school populations. This resulted in the government approving the reopening of face-to-face schooling only for students sitting exit exams and daycare centres. The financial impact of the pandemic was great for the early childhood sector as the majority of ECIs are privately-owned institutions. In her interview, Mrs. James, the principal of Faith Mission Early Childhood Development Centre in Sydenham, St. Catherine, noted that “financially, where we are unable to pay staff members their full salary. The school’s population has decreased to about 40%. We have had staff members who have resigned to seek employment elsewhere, as sufficient funds to pay salaries were not available due to none collection of fees.”
Communication is Key
Many schools island-wide, including early childhood institutions, benefited from a coordinated message from the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and the Early Childhood Commission. The clear messaging and steady flow of credible information helped early childhood institutions to make decisions that ensured the safety of their children and practitioners. As noted by Mrs. James, principal at Faith Mission Early Childhood Development Centre in Sydenham, St. Catherine, “following the Prime Minister’s announcement in March 2020 for the closure of schools, we gathered all the children to explain to them what will be happening.”
Teacher Support is Crucial
The closure of schools led to remote and online learning. Many schools and practitioners were not familiar with online learning platforms such as Google Classroom and Zoom. However, many practitioners were supported to continue remote learning during the pandemic. In her interview, Ms. Lorna Samuels noted, “during the period when the school closed, the Principal of the school hosted a sensitization and training session for us to know about and learn how to use Google Meet and other virtual classroom platforms so that we would be equipped to continue teaching and learning remotely to support our children’s learning needs. This would have been my first time using the online platform to teach; it was a bit challenging. However, with time and further guidance, I was able to use various techniques to improve the delivery of my lessons.”
Additionally, some teachers were able to access financial support through the government CARE programme that provided financial relief during the pandemic and through financial support from the Early Childhood Commission. Mrs. Ellis-Dixon, Acting Director of Sector Support Services at the Commission, noted in her interview that “with our ECIs closed, they are operating at a loss financially, therefore, we are placing as [many] practitioners as possible on the salary subsidy payroll so they can receive some financial assistance.”
No doubt the impact of COVID-19 on the ECD sector was great, but the lessons learnt from the pandemic are greater. It is now the responsibility of the sector to continue to transform these lessons into actions that will improve outcomes for our children and build capacity for our teachers.