COVID 19 and the education system: putting the pieces back together

It would be entirely fair to say that the “arrival” here of the coronavirus pandemic has taken the country’s education system by storm. Prior to that, politically, the fallout from the UNPA/AFC government’s earlier loss of the vote of no confidence in the National Assembly had resulted in national concern over the implications of this eventuality as well as an equally relevant deterioration of the national political environment. . In a country where even the most damaging alternative social and economic emergencies typically take “second place” to endless contests for political power, questions about the advent of the pandemic and its wider societal implications have swirled. “lost” in the middle of the political agenda.

What this concern meant during the early period of the pandemic was that the emergency of the disease was buried under the political concerns that had arisen from the final outcome of the March 2020 general election.

A guard checks the temperature of a student at the Richard Ishmael Secon-dary. The checks are part of the COVID-19 safety measures instituted in schools for the holding of lessons and exams (photo by the Ministry of Education)

It will be recalled that in some areas there had been a ‘weakening’ of the capacities of some critical national support systems, education in particular being one of them. In the particular case of education, it was widely felt that political developments coupled with the advent of the pandemic had taken some national institutions, including the Ministry of Education, into a state of flux which, coupled with its lack of capacity in the first place had left it ill-equipped to offer anything resembling an effective response to what, at that time, was a looming crisis in the country’s education system.

What was most evident within the education system at this time was a lack of high-level decision-making capacity which, it seems, was a function of the officials occupying the upper levels of the administration of education in Guyana had indeed found themselves, for the most part, in positions that went beyond their respective spheres of experience.

What complicated the situation considerably was the fact that the nature of the pandemic and its behavior did not lend itself to a sit-still-and-it-out-out response. Lives were at stake and a global impact of catastrophic proportions loomed large.

These days did not represent the finest hour of our educational system. The critical issues relating, firstly, to the security of the country’s student and teaching population have become the subject of decision-making vacuums and how to ensure the continuity of the educational offer in an environment of non-availability of the communication tools with which the to do have become emergencies that the country has never really grasped.

In an environment where politics and, more specifically, who governs, has always been seen as more important than even the most menacing alternative crises, first the impending 2020 general election and then the destabilizing interregnum that preceded the change of government did not serve to make the situation any easier. The new political administration sought to create an environment for vigorous emergency response. However, it suffered two setbacks. First, it was simply impossible that a meaningful option for the delivery of education could be put in place without the technological tools to do so. Second, the efforts of the new education administration regime to respond to the crisis became caught up in a political controversy that diverted attention from the root problem.

What the necessary closure of schools across the country has created is a catastrophic loss of communication between the “educational system” and its charges. The nature of the COVID-19 emergency and the accompanying political environment did not allow for any sort of orderly retreat into a status quo in which the authorities could still maintain control. The delivery of education has persisted, in a way, in a completely disjointed way, working, to some extent, only in circumstances where the technological tools were available, to sustain a collapsed system.

What happened during this period was a sort of ‘free for all’, ‘survival of the fittest’ situation in which national education provision fell into pockets of private initiative to most well-meaning ones that should only benefit those equipped to respond. While it is fair to say that there were instances where parents, teachers and students raised their respective ‘games’ commendably and considerably, the authorities’ failure to provide a holistic option meant that for For thousands of the country’s school-aged children, formal education had stalled and it was unclear when the status quo ante would be restored.

If the dislocation of the education system were to be subsumed under the growing sense of national emergency caused by the ever-increasing number of illnesses and deaths resulting from the pandemic, the consequences of school closures and the absence of the technological requirements necessary to shaping an alternative If the education delivery system was largely lacking, the inevitable schisms between the political administration and the teachers and their union over the best direction to take created even more headaches. In the final analysis, we found ourselves “dodging between the raindrops”, applying band-aid solutions some of which were fraught with risk, having come to the conclusion that full restoration of a normal education had to wait for a satisfactory level of retirement from the pandemic.

Perhaps the most telling impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the prolonged absence from school by thousands of school-aged children, especially those ranging from “beginners” to just below sixth grade level. There are real fears that the phenomenon has spawned a whole generation of Guyanese children who will be forced into a “catch-up” diet that may well not be able to compensate for the interruption of formal education.

Although there has been no evidence, so far, that the powers that be have begun to undertake a thorough investigation into the impact of COVID-19 on the national education system and how this is likely to affect us “along the way”, it is already irrefutable proof that consequences, almost certainly negative ones, will accumulate. In communities across the country, there is more than anecdotal evidence that the resumption of normal instruction in the school system has not been accompanied by a corresponding return of all those who left the classroom when the pandemic led to the hasty closure of the school. doors. What happens to them might be one of our biggest headaches going forward.