A more accurate use of the word ‘volte-face’ cannot be imagined, given the context of the current temporary closure of educational institutions in Mauritius. Despite massive vaccination campaigns and a relatively high percentage of the population getting their jabs, COVID-19 seems to enjoy a new lease of life, infecting thousands and leaving behind a significant death toll. It is no secret that the official infection figures have never reflected reality, as rapid antigen test results were not considered. We were surfing on a wave of manufactured confidence.
At school level, the truth cannot be concealed for too long. The cyclical absences of staff and students due to the virus have been the red flags that the virus is very much active in the community. We are constantly told that we have to live with the virus. Yes, we do. While some are quick to argue that children and teenagers are able to recover fairly well, teachers have been constantly at risk. The practical problems are as follows: overcrowded classrooms with at times more than 40 students crammed into a limited space, doubts about the efficacy of certain vaccination brands, the complacency of some people boosted by repetitions of our governors that ‘we are relatively COVID-safe’, the propagation of the lethal strain of the virus among others.
When there were appeals to shift to a temporary closure of schools and switching to remote learning owing to the recrudescence of the virus, they were bluntly dismissed as ‘speculations’. Yet, barely a day after, the speculations have been actualised. The climax was when the deputy prime minister, who also happens to be the actual acting prime minister, was insisting upon ‘a wait and see’ mode in parliament while theatrically, closure of educational institutions was being announced on the national television channel by none other than his own parliamentary colleague! It was farcical and demonstrated a total lack of synthesis in communication. The timing could not have been more disastrous. The volte-face has been spectacular. Communication fails when it is exclusively top-down in the educational context, where the input of all stakeholders is required. What we have witnessed is preventable. Preparedness is vital. Learning to listen is a valuable lesson that will be hopefully adopted.