COVID-19 and growth

COVID-19 and growth

Preparing the education sector of primary concern

BY Stephen Wallder

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

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In recent times Jamaica has been recording multiple new daily highs in COVID-19 cases; one day was as much as 458. Worrying, indeed. However, whilst this has resulted in the Government reinstituting stricter protocols, alongside the necessary controls, how do we ensure we don't lose sight of growth strategies for the economy and, as is my primary concern, in education?

Considering the current spike in COVID-19 infections, and the fact that mass vaccination is still some way away, we may enter a scenario in which these protocols persist for some time. Listen closely to what Prime Minister Andrew Holness has been saying.

Unfortunately, many businesses may face a protracted compression of revenues and, as a result, consumption will drop and we will experience lower future growth. However, if we allow virus spread, recovery will be even more painful — both from a health and economic perspective.

Thus, in controlling the health impact upon our population, we cannot afford to not “knuckle down” to the end. We have done so for almost a year; let's see our way through to mass vaccinations.

In the interim — I can help myself — what of education? We do, I believe, need to review the situation regarding the provision of education. Are we really going to continue to send children to school and not expect the virus to spread? We must surely recognise that the behaviour of our children in our schools is but a microcosm of our wider society. And, this newspaper recently reported that the largest percentage of new COVID-19 cases was amongst young people.

When I do venture beyond my yard I see too many people not wearing masks and physical distancing at a premium. How difficult can it be to estimate two metres?

A tough decision, but let us strategically review the return to face-to-face schooling. I may, indeed, be wrong, but as an indisciplined society, do we really expect our children to be disciplined in schools to such an extent that they protect their family and friends effectively? Health professionals advise us that vigilance is key, and we are placing this charge on our children. What a responsibility!

Hence, you ask, yes, so what are the alternatives? Well, extending the school year, utilising the summer holiday, among other suggestions. Let's face it, if we begin to vaccinate, by that time, if “spread” is reducing, children (adults, too) will relish a return to some sort of “normality” that we can manage responsibly.

Let's support the use of the summer period with a previously untapped resource that will assist in addressing a potentially lost school year, was Minister of Education Fayval Williams' words — not mine — as stated on the day of the recent ceremonial opening of Parliament, 18th February. Let's utilise our soon-to-be qualified student teachers. We have dozens, for example, in the School of Technical and Vocational Education, here at the University of Technology, Jamaica, on the final stretch of their pedagogical journey (as learners), many of them currently facilitating online learning across our high schools on teaching practice. These “next generation” educators are enthusiastic, eager, eminently qualified and up-to-date with learning approaches, utilising virtual learning platforms and social media — well, that's just the norm now!

Not only will this assist the education system to make up for the debilitating impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic, putting a little 'change' in these student teachers' pockets will benefit economic activity and add to their worth, experience, and knowledge.

As educators, and particularly as educational leaders, we can make our contribution and drive education (and the economy) forward. We have to align our approach with economic and health demands and we can pursue strategies for economic recovery.

As stated earlier, yes, we must knuckle down, but not blindly. We must employ innovative and creative ideas that will better move Jamaica forward, beyond COVID-19!

The virus used our globalised world to spread itself, we can equally choose to use that same globalised world — COVAX is a starter — to equally respond, better prepared, with knowledge, skills and our strong Jamaican attitude to recover economically.

We must be primed for growth, with an educated workforce and targeted education system, not stalled by COVID-19, but reinvigorated and ready because of it. We ought not to just be ready for the world, as we once knew it, once more, but stand better ready to be proactive and not just waiting for the tourists to “soon come”.

Stephen Wallder is a lecturer and faculty cooperative education coordinator in School of Technical and Vocational Education, Faculty of Education & Liberal Studies, University of Technology, Jamaica. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or stephen.wallder@utech.edu.jm.


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