REMARKS BY DEPUTY PREMIER AND MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, CULTURE, YOUTH AFFAIRS, FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
DR. THE HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
AT THE SEVENTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
THURSDAY, APRIL 15, 2021
Mister Speaker, I am grateful for this opportunity to share in this Honourable House and with the entire community, updates on education and progress over the last month as we approach the final term of the 2020/2021 school year. Many costly adjustments had to be made in all schools in the Territory to ensure safety and to instill the COVID-19 protocols established by the Ministry of Health, which includes social distancing, extra wash stations for the washing of hands and classrooms equipped with sanitisation stations for students. Hybrid/online learning was implemented and has been utilised for the last two terms while we sought to ensure that the best possible pedagogical practices were enforced.
Mr. Speaker, the hybrid model of learning was necessary to conform to our robust approach to keeping our people safe. Because of the social distancing requirements mandated by Cabinet and enforced by the Ministry of Health, combined with the number of students and the size of the classrooms, we have been unable to accommodate full classes at once in most schools.
Contrary to misinformation that has been circulated in the public sphere, both private schools and public schools were faced with this dilemma. Some public schools with smaller class sizes were able to have face to face instruction all day for five days a week. Some private schools, similar to our larger public schools, used a hybrid model, where their students did not have access to face to face learning every day. So this concept that private schools were “fully open” was false.
The BVI also is not the only place in the world facing these challenges. According to UNESCO, more than 888 million children worldwide continue to face disruptions to their education due to full and partial school closures.
We acknowledge, Mister Speaker, that the hybrid model has limitations and is not the most ideal for all learners. I am, therefore, happy to report that on 7th April, Cabinet decided to reduce the six-feet social distancing requirement of six feet to three feet to facilitate an increase in the number of students being able to access onsite instruction in schools throughout the Territory. In addition, Cabinet granted permission to the Ministry of Education, with the approval of the Ministry for Health and Social Development, to vary the three-feet distancing requirement, as needed, to accommodate all homeroom groups in the larger primary and secondary schools to facilitate daily onsite classes as determined by the principals.
This adjustment to the social distance in the classroom, Mr. Speaker, will allow the majority of the schools to accommodate all students currently enrolled. Therefore, beginning Monday 19th April, the start of the Trinity school term, most schools will have students onsite for five days a week for classes, much like pre-COVID. The Elmore Stoutt High School, Bregado Flax Educational Centre and the Enid Scatliffe Pre-Primary School will continue to utilise the hybrid/ shift modality and gradually increase the number of students daily on campus.
Mr. Speaker, due to the number of students enrolled at the Elmore Stoutt High School, selected groups from Grades 7 – 9 are attending classes on campus while the majority of students in those grades remain in online classes. However, with the possibility of having a three-feet distance set up, gradually more sessions on campus will be introduced. For the senior school, plans are to eventually implement a shift system to have all students attending classes five days a week.
While the major setbacks for all three schools are centred on the shortage of available resources to accommodate the student population, the ongoing reconstruction at Bregado Educational Centre, secondary division, is an additional constraint with the rebuild works of buildings two and three. As a result of the construction, the number of students on the secondary division of the school campus has been limited to the technical students, special education and marginalised groups. Construction works are nearing completion, and the final walkthrough and handover is scheduled for the 5th May. We are looking forward to our staff and students being able to occupy the buildings by the end of May, 2021.
For the Ivan Dawson Primary School, infrastructural works and campus clean-up, which have been ongoing since 11th January, 2021, are nearing completion. The repairs are completed, and the next phase of thoroughly cleaning the building will begin. This we anticipate to take place once the necessary resources can be secured to complete the cleaning process. The school remains at the Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church hall for classes.
Mr. Speaker, as the schools reopen for the majority to be back in schools for five days, we will continue to ensure that all the sanitisation and hygiene protocols are in place. Recent information posted indicates that as of 5th April, there were 8,246 persons in the Territory who have received COVID-19 vaccinations, and I am pleased to inform this Honourable House that several educators have taken the first dose of the vaccine. Some schools have held discussion sessions with staff on the vaccine, and the final groups will be completed in the upcoming week. We must thank Dr. Ronald Georges, Dr. Kedrick Pickering, Dr. June Samuels and members of the medical team from the BVI Health Services Authority who have been making the presentations and engaging discussions about the vaccine with the staff and faculty within the schools.
Mr. Speaker, school schedules and other logistical details will be shared with parents on a school by school basis as there is still some uniqueness for most. What we have determined from the Ministry level is that beginning on the 19th April, the start of the Trinity term, is that school will begin at 8:40 a.m. Students can be dropped off between 7:45 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. The breaks and lunch times will be staggered for the grade levels in an effort to minimise students having the opportunities to gather in groups. Parents are to secure packed lunches for their children from vendors if they are not able to give them lunch from home. School dismissal will also be done in a staggered manner by grade levels as determined by the principals of each school. Transportation of students to the campus is still the responsibility of the parents. The organised bus transportation will continue for secondary students who utilise this means to attend school.
Parents are to ensure their child comes to school with a face shield or mask and their personal container of hand sanitiser. All students must have their materials, including textbooks, writing tools, and electronic devices, as sharing will not be permitted. School attendance is mandatory for all teachers and students. Electronic devices must be used in school daily. This means that despite the fact that students are now back in the classroom, the use of technology in the teaching and learning process will continue. As we have determined this methodology and instructional format, using electronic devices, is now official in school delivery; electronic textbooks, as well as Google classroom must be fully utilised. Principals are challenged to ensure that this happens in each school on a regular basis.
Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned in a previous statement, the Ministry was able to secure a number of promethean boards and computers for use at the school. We have been able to distribute all promethean boards and computers to the schools for daily use. The ICT Unit has delivered 796 Lenovo 14W laptops to public schools with the exception of the Ivan Dawson Primary School. The last delivery was made on April 13 to the Robinson O’Neal Memorial Primary School. The laptops for the Ivan Dawson Primary School have been prepared and are currently in storage at the office until they can be secured at the school building.
The struggle for adequate internet coverage in schools continues, but I am pleased to say that the long awaited hardware for the internet build out at schools is now on island and ready for installation. Partnering with the Department of Information Technology (DoIt), plans are on stream to further equip schools to improve internet coverage on school campuses. This process will begin in the coming days.
For the staff, training will continue. Professional Development sessions engaged the staff in workshops by subject and grade and for the support staff in areas that will improve their delivery of the services they offer that impact the daily administration of education. Promethean in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture will be hosting Promethean training for all educators. This training seeks to enhance and develop tech integration strategies in the teaching and learning process using the newly installed Promethean Titanium ActivPanel(s). The upcoming training sessions will specifically cover:
- Promethean Titanium ActivPanel Features;
- ActivInspire (Promethean’s collaborative lesson delivery software); and
- Classflow (Promethean’s award-winning, cloud-based lesson delivery software).
The training will be held virtually on 5th - 6th May, 2021 from 3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. Educators will be required to pre-register for the upcoming sessions. A virtual registration form will be emailed to all educators from Promethean’s Education Consultant in the next few weeks.
Mr. Speaker, co-curricular activities for the upcoming term include an inter secondary athletic meet scheduled for 6th May; inter primary and secondary school Spelling Bees beginning on 25th May; and the preschool games, which begin on the 28th May, 2021.
A major focus for this term also will be end of year finals and standardised examinations. The key stage assessments for grades 2, 4 and 6 will be on 11th June, Caribbean Examination Council examinations, CSEC and CAPE will commence on 14th June and the Caribbean Vocational Examination (CVQ) will also commence on the 16th June.
Mister Speaker, we are anticipating a very productive term as we intend to end strong this academic year. Graduation and exit ceremonies will commence on the 24th June. Further details will be released in the coming weeks.
Discussions are ongoing for summer academic programmes to engage selected groups of students in an effort to fill gaps in learning over the school year. Our hybrid/blended learning, reduced face to face sessions, and the truant behaviour and high absenteeism of some students may have brought on learning defections which we hope to offer some assistance to recover from through these programmes.
Mr. Speaker, finally, this term we look forward to the consultations, reviews, updates, finalising and ratification of several policies and/or legislation, including the Education Act, Teacher and Administrator standards, Curriculum policy, and Graduation requirements. I have been engaging the Education Advisory Board and other stakeholders for their input in the finalisation of these policies and the process has been going well.
Mr. Speaker, as the Ministry continues its plans for the upcoming school year, I wish to remind parents that the deadline for primary school admittance is 30th April. Additionally, the application process for Grade 6 students who will be moving on to Grade 7 is now opened until 30th June, 2021. Application forms are available online, or they can be collected from the Ministry on the third floor of the Ward’s Building.
Mister Speaker, I express thanks to the Chief Education Officer and her staff at the Ministry, principals and staff in all schools, the maintenance team, and parents for their non-stop commitment and hard work. We continue to strive to offer our students the best educational opportunities given the constraints of COVID-19. We endeavour to educate all in these changing times. I ask for the continued cooperation and patience of all as we work through the anomalies presented daily as a result of the worldwide prevalence of the pandemic.