Standing six feet apart from one another, and holding signs, around 500 people called for the Government to open schools during a silent protest at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, on Monday afternoon. The protesters, representing the group Open Schools TT, were comprised of parents and grandparents from all parts of the country.

Some of the signs read: Childhood Development in Jeopardy, Remote Learning is Not an Education and 600 Days and Counting.

“We have been trying to let the Government understand for the last three months. We’ve been particularly concerned with the primary school level, daycares and pre-schools. There’s been no plan,” Lara Littlepage, a member of the Open Schools TT committee, said.

“What are we waiting for? COVID is here to stay and the Prime Minister keeps saying that. We’ve been talking about everything else except our students. Students haven’t had a chance to speak their side and they are suffering.”

Littlepage said the organisation is seeking an audience with the Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh and Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly to discuss a way forward. She believes that while varying stakeholders have had the chance to have their say during the pandemic, parents have not.

“We are okay with a phased opening. We are not asking to send every student back in January. But we understand it needs to happen slowly, but what are waiting for?” she said.

According to Open Schools TT members, the online system is affecting the academic, emotional and mental development of children.

They expressed concern about the issues faced by some students in accessing classes, the number of students dropping out of school, as well as the reported increase in mental health issues among children.

“There’s a lack of engagement. A lack of socialisation. You have kids who are really no longer interested in learning. So, you have the dropout,” said a teacher present at the protest.

In response to COVID-19, schools were closed in T&T in March 2020.

In October 2021, after the Government made vaccinations for children 12 years and over available, secondary school students in forms 4 to 6 were allowed to return to classrooms.

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated students in those forms were allowed to return.

All other students—in pre-school, primary school and secondary school—have to access classes online.

The online school system has been in place for approximately 600 days.