BOVENDREN ANASAMY

When everyone’s attention was on the national budget, the Minister of Education took to the stage on Saturday 6th June to announce the long-awaited measures concerning our education sector. After nearly two and a half months in the dark, parents, students and teachers have finally learnt of the dynamic strategies developed by the think tank of the parent Ministry.

The Minister gave the key dates for the phased resumption of studies, as well as those for the examinations and last two terms. However, many key points were left unexplained as to how they will be implemented in practice. The Minister expects things to return to normality but no set date has been given. The following important aspects lacking clarity are:

– Second term will be from 3rd August to 18th December. For Grades 4 to 6 (Primary) and Grades 10 to 13 (Secondary) students this means that they will be attending school non-stop during 20 weeks, even though they will be present only on 3 days as from the 14th September! Is this approach in line with pedagogical strategies? How can students be expected to learn effectively without any break? This is why school holidays are set after 12 to 13 weeks of studies every year.

– Along the same lines, Grades 1 to 3 (Primary) and Grades 7 to 9 (Secondary) students will attend school during 2 days as from the 14th September. This leaves one question: what will they do and under whose supervision will they be during the three other days? The Minister has spoken about the safety of children at school, but what about safety at home? Does the Minister expect that these children, especially Grades 1 to 3, will be safe at home alone if both parents are working? Does the Ombudsperson for Children have any opinion on this state of affairs? Even in “normal” times we hear of the school children playing truant and ending up in embarrassing situations…

– Furthermore, as from the 14th September, there will be staggered attendance at schools. Consider the following case: a student of Grade 9 will attend school during two days per week. The usual 45 weekly periods of study will now be compressed into 18 periods. Who will decide which subjects are to be taught during these two days, and for how many periods? The same applies for the other grades. In addition, what about the teachers who work mostly with lower or upper grades? The Minister has also stated that online classes will be ongoing during this period: if teachers are at school, who will deliver these?

– The Minister also mentioned that students would remain under teacher supervision during school breaks and lunchtime, since they will no longer be allowed in the school compound. During these times, the students are free to mingle with their peers, usually sharing and discussing personal matters – now they will be under the constant, watchful eyes of teachers, even when having their lunch!

– Finally onto the question of Cambridge examinations in November 2020. One journalist asked the minister whether candidates would have the possibility of sitting for these examinations in private. The answer was definitely baffling: the Minister stated that (i) students are not ready for these examinations, (ii) it is up to the MES to look into the matter of human and infrastructural resources since school would still be ongoing during that period. I would personally suggest to the Minister that she fires the adviser who wrote these insanities for her! With regards to (i), many SC and HSC students have been studying hard during the lockdown and, with the help of online classes and tuition, have been able to progress a lot in their studies. By October they will definitely complete their respective syllabuses and be ready to take the examinations. These will particularly benefit A-level students who wish to attend foreign universities starting in February/March 2021. Furthermore, the Minister and her cohort of experts seem unaware that many students who already took the November 2019 examinations were getting ready to sit for the May/June 2020 session in order to improve their results. Now they can only rely on the November session to get through and yet, has the Minister not given any thought about these students? As for the issue (ii), instead of being flanked by Permanent Secretaries during her press conference, it would have been more suitable for the Director of the MES to be up there and answer this question. Again the Minister is ignorant of the fact that every year, during the May/June examination session, school is ongoing in our country. Still, private candidates take these examinations and are generally supervised by people who are enlisted by the MES for that specific purpose. Thus, why will the November session pose problems based on these arguments? The Director of the MES should have asked her staff to compile data from past years and thus use these to forecast the different possibilities for November 2020 –  but being proactive does not form part of the vocabulary of those in the Education sector. Consequently, it is unfair for the students to be deprived of the possibility to sit for the November examination in private if they so desire.

These points mentioned above show how much is still left to be answered. It is a pity that the journalists attending the press conference did not ask more pertinent questions, which would have shed some light on key aspects of the proposed school resumption. Still, there is time for the above issues to be clarified by those decision-makers.