Updated: Dec 7, 2020
In a recent discussion with my friend, Brian, he commented that he felt very uncomfortable and scared for allowing his daughter to return to university in the USA. He is surely not alone!! Many parents all over the world are contemplating this very difficult decision to send their kids back out to school knowing the dangers of COVID-19.
I have two kids who are going back to school soon. One is heading back to Cornell University in upstate New York and the other will be starting high school in Toronto. As a parent, I am committed to providing my kids with the opportunity to be the best, and education provides the first best opportunity to do so. The big question that many parents are contemplating is: “is it better to have a dunce kid who is alive than a bright dead one?” Personally, I think we must continue to educate our children and in so doing, we will have to find educational delivery systems that ensure the safety of all. This question is even more significant as recent research has found that young people are becoming “super spreaders of COVID-19”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that in many countries young people are the primary driver of the spread of COVID-19, which is expected to be further compounded by the opening of schools across the globe in August and September. WHO officials are quoted as saying “the epidemic is changing”. Previously, the population affected most by the disease were people over the age of 40. Presently, in some countries like Japan, 65% of the new infections affect people under the age of 40. The morbidity and mortality among this demographic (under 40) are low but they have been found to be aggressive spreaders of the disease to vulnerable groups in the population (WHO).
We cannot overstate the importance and value of education to a nation. The comparative and competitive advantages of many countries are directly tied to the literacy rate of their people. The productivity of many businesses is directly correlated to the core competences and capabilities of their work force. We therefore cannot afford for the educational and training systems of a country to be compromised.
COVID-19 has created unique challenges for developing economies and island-states like Jamaica, which are characterized by:
· Economies that are fragile and are prone to external shocks;
· Broadband technologies that are not pervasive in schools and homes;
· Health delivery systems that lack adequate staffing and critical biomedical equipment;
· Anaemic economic and labour productivity growth.
An escalation of COVID-19 in these countries will have “fatal consequences for their people and economies”.
The opening of schools in August and September therefore presents an extreme risk to all of us. I suspect that a significant number of our teachers, including principals, are over the age of 40, which increases the risks posed by the COVID-19 virus. A large percentage of our people suffer from chronic diseases. The evidence shows that this virus results in higher mortality and morbidity among persons with comorbidities. Large numbers of parents and grandparents are over the age of 40 years old. They are the main caregivers and are therefore more at risk of contracting the virus from their kids. Helpers and nannies provide after-school care for kids and they and their families will be more susceptible to contracting the COVID-19 virus. Many students and workers alike will utilize the public transportation system, which will foster greater transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
I think our policy makers and administrators will have to act with alacrity and sound judgment. Stakeholders around the world have implemented several policies to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Some of the actions and policies that have been suggested or implemented to date include the following:
· Policy that allows schools to implement distance-learning tutoring and hybrid school attendance (that is, blended learning – mix of face-to-face and online classes).
· The provision of grants and loans for parents, teachers and schools to invest in distance-learning technologies.
· The provision of incentives to communication, financial and technology companies to provide discounts on distance-learning technologies.
· Implementation of mandatory mask-wearing in schools.
· Implementation of television-based teaching up to primary schools.
· Providing parents the option of sending their kids to school or opting for home-based schooling.
2. School administrators
· Implementation of distance-learning technologies to allow remote teaching and learning.
· Implementation of staggered start and end times for schools, plus staggered lunchtime.
· Developing social distancing standards for all classrooms and aggressive monitoring for compliance.
· Holding schools in shifts and classes in temporary spaces or outside.
· Installation of hand washing and sanitization systems at strategic locations, plus temperature assessments at the entrances of the schools and classrooms.
· Ramping up behavioural and mental health services provided to students and staff.
· Establishing distance learning technologies to allow their staff to work from home.
· Introducing home-based and flexible work system policies to facilitate employees working from home.
· Implementation of reporting and monitoring systems to track staff working from home.
· Support parents with subsidizing their childcare options.
· Implementing company transportation to reduce their workers’ use the of public transportation system.
· Donating thermometers, masks, sanitizers, wash stations and computers to schools.
· Implementing ventilation, disinfecting and cleaning schedules throughout the work space.
· Identify the risk that exist for their family in the home, school, work and community in which they live.
· Make arrangements for family members to help with monitoring of their children’s home based schooling.
· Make investments in distance learning technologies to allow for home based tutoring and working.
· Allocate hand sanitizers and masks to their children before sending them to school.
This list is clearly not meant to be exhaustive. What is clear though, is that we have all had to make quick and significant adjustments as COVID-19 has created a new normal for us all. At the time of writing this blog, there are 25.4 million positive cases and 870,000 deaths worldwide. We do know that we are the hosts that proliferate the coronavirus. We must therefore stay apart, cover up if we cannot and wash our hands frequently.
I believe the management of COVID-19 by Caribbean governments have been exemplary to date. Here in Jamaica, our government must remain vigilant against this unseen threat.
Read more of my blogs at https://www.donaldfarquharson.com/blog.
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