The Parliament opened for the 12th session yesterday without much fanfare given COVID restrictions. But as she addressed members of both the upper and lower houses, President Paula-Mae Weekes made it clear to everyone that theirs is an awesome responsibility to serve the people.
Her question is one every person who holds office and aspires to it in this country should ponder. “Can we trust you?” she asked on behalf of the more than 600,000 citizens who cast their votes in the August 10 General Election.
The question is relevant, especially when one reflects on what the nation’s children have had to endure since the onset of COVID-19 here. When in March the government decided to shut down schools, children who were due to write the SEA examination, which determines which high school they go to, were thrown into a quandary when the exam set for April was shifted to August. The exam has come and gone and these children, who will go down in history as having done the examination in extenuating circumstances, will have to trust that they have done their best and they get the school of their choice.
They will also have to trust that the Education Minister, Prime Minister and all stakeholders have their best interest at heart as they chart the course for the ‘reopening’ of schools.
The new school year starts on September 1 with the expectation that by September 14 all schools will be fully engaged in the teaching and learning process.
In this ‘new normal’, this entails some novel methods, including the use of electronic devices, television, newspapers and radio to provide additional learning resources to children. Teachers are also expected to prepare printed learning packages for students who do not have access to online learning. However, the teaching methods will still require the heavy involvement of parents/guardians.
With ‘school time’ anticipated between 9 am to 2.30 pm, the onus will be on parents to ensure they either make themselves or someone they can rely available to monitor their children to ensure they are doing what is required of them. The entire system is based on trust but all parties – parents, teachers, administrators, the minister, Government and the students themselves – must do what is required.
By its own admission, Government is aware that 65,000 children do not have access to online learning. Corporate T&T has been asked to aid in providing devices and connectivity to these students.
While it is commendable that an attempt is being made to get the education system back on track, we trust all the variables, including the logistics of parents having to work while still trying to monitor their children, will be taken into consideration. Given the many single-parent families and low-income households in T&T, we suspect this will be a difficult task but it must be taken into account to ensure no child is left behind.
The country’s first Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams, said in 1962 that the future of T&T is in our children’s schoolbags. Today, however, that future relies on those who govern ensuring the best possible rollout plan is developed.