Education officials across the Caribbean and Latin America have asserted that teachers will be in need of psycho-social support for their return to the classroom, following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Approximately 91,710 teachers and seven million students in the Caribbean have been affected by the temporary closure of educational institutions.
Lecturer of educational leadership at the School of Education, University of West Indies, St Augustine campus, Dr Freddy James, noted that one of the 2030 sustainable development goals is quality education which demands that no student is left behind.
It also means that teachers must be given the requisite support to continue teaching and learning amid the crisis.
“COVID-19 has presented us with some turbulence and, therefore, the approach should be a phased approach to reopening and an approach that caters to the physical, emotional, social, cultural and spiritual aspects of people,” James said.
She was a panellist on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) webinar on Wednesday, in collaboration with the Regional Education Group for Latin America and the Caribbean.
James found support in Dr Carlos Vargas Tamez, chief, Unit of Teacher Development, UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“There are different consequences of confinement, such as domestic violence and the disengagement from education that can be produced with teachers and learners from a prolonged absence and added to that, the economic and social needs,” he said.
Tamez said students may lose caregivers or relatives to the virus and have difficulty coping even upon returning to school.
“Teachers are key agents in providing social and emotional support to students and their families, but before that, they themselves require support and it is important that they receive this support from peers or specialised professionals,” Tamez explained.
On Monday, minister with responsibility for education, Karl Samuda, announced that online learning will continue until July 3.
Schools are set to physically reopen on September 7, to coincide with the start of the 2020-2021 academic year.
Deputy chief education officer in Barbados, Dr Roderick Rudder posited that it is important for educators to consider limiting screen time of students as they engage in distance or online learning.
“We have to strike that balance between facilitating the learning and development that is required against the health risks that are potentially there through excessive screen time,” Rudder said.
Educators in Barbados have been guided by a maximum screen time of 20 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, for younger children, it is 15 minutes maximum, for any one synchronous session.
The panellists concluded that this crisis presents itself an unprecedented opportunity to transform national education systems into one of resilience.
They also noted the unlikeliness of the region going forward with face-to-face learning as the sole means of educating.