The head of the UWI COVID-19 Task Force has fully backed Government’s decision to reopen schools next month, expressing concerns over “manifest risks” to children’s education and widening equality gaps.
While pointing out that the extended closure of schools was having an adverse effect on the education and health of children, task force chairman Professor Clive Landis, an experienced medical researcher, said the time had come for schools to reopen after more than a yearlong closure due to the pandemic.
His comments have come less than a week after Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw announced that schools would reopen for face-to-face classes for a select group of students at the end of the Easter vacation.
The minister said primary school students in Classes 3 and 4, as well as secondary school students in fifth and sixth forms, would resume face-to-face classes on April 20, the start of the Trinity term.
Speaking during a panel discussion Tuesday afternoon – Mind the Education Gap: Schooling in the Caribbean during COVID-19 – Professor Landis maintained that the longer children remained at home, the greater the risks of them developing physical and mental issues.
He said: “We are very concerned about the gaps which have opened up in the education systems which are affecting children and adults while the schools are closed…so this is one of those very important areas which is concerning a lot of us, about the impact of the pandemic on schools.
“Many of them have been closed now for about a year. Some have closed, reopened, and closed again and when we balance the risk of opening and closing schools, that particular equation is not a static one so we know that absence from school and school closures have effects that are cumulative on the loss of knowledge, loss of skills for children, their physical health, their mental health, the risks that they are exposed to and driving inequalities and that risk increases with time, so the risk to children is not static, it is increasing with time and so that balance between opening and closing schools is now shifting all the more urgently to opening schools because the manifest risks of children is increasing over time.”
He insisted that contrary to popular belief, schools were not considered dangerous spreading environments for COVID-19.
Professor Landis said a survey in the UK had revealed that teachers at school were less at risk than the general public to contract the coronavirus.
In praising the recent initiative to vaccinate teachers in the Caribbean, the UWI professor said it was encouraging to see countries in the region, including Barbados, were implementing measures to facilitate the reopening of schools.
Professor Landis said: “I’d like to call attention to the best practices which have been coming to the fore in the Caribbean in ways that we can reopen schools, as opposed to the fact that they are closed. I was very interested to see that Barbados took one approach, which was to vaccinate the teachers.
“When I’ve sat in on committees in other countries the issue of transportation comes up, so maybe there needs to be a national effort to mobilize the buses in the hospitality and tourism sector which are all standing idle to help children be bused to schools in a safe way. Whatever it is, we need to find ways in which to safely open schools.”