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Education Minister Anthony Garcia

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As the Ministry of Education steers clear of private schools’ business, vice-president of the Private Schools’ Association Anthony McCollin is imploring school managers to show humanity in how they treat children whose parents cannot afford to resume their classes.Several parents contacted Guardian Media in the past week complaining that their children’s schools had issued letters saying classes will resume online and if they fail to pay school fees their children will be expelled.But in a brief telephone conversation yesterday, Education Minister Anthony said the operations of private schools were an arrangement between parents and the schools’ management. “We do not get involved in that,” Garcia said.While the Education Act governs the overall education system, it more or less dictates the operations of public schools and McCollin said his members follow this act. But Garcia said the Concordat deals with preservations of rights for denominational schools.Garcia also said they are monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and are awaiting advice from the Ministry of Health before making any decision on the reopening of schools.McCollin, who is the principal of Corpus Christi College, said the association comprises 16 schools and they are yet to decide on the resumption of classes as they await further information from the ministry. He said their student population includes children the ministry assigned to them. However, he admitted there are several schools which are not part of the association.While the association cannot speak for the schools outside its membership, McCollin urged school managers to sympathise with students whose family’s finances were severely affected by the shutdown of economic activity due to the virus.“In the midst of all of this, I will encourage all educators and school management boards to employ some humanity in making decisions. It is simply because you have an unprecedented situation and some parents might be in dire financial constraints,” McCollin said.

“They would need some sort of assistance. I am sure those principals and school managers will do their best to treat this on a case-by-case basis.”

He said the association will soon discuss how classes can resume during the Stay-at-Home measures and they will contact parents, as some are now unemployed. There are suggestions that schools can reduce fees or introduce a moratorium for parents who cannot afford school fees. However, he said he understands the plight of school managers who have salaries and other expenses. Another issue is whether children would cope with online classes.“All of this impacts students’ learning. Moving from a predominantly face-to-face system to classes online, do educators believe children will not be impacted by that level of change?” McCollin said. “It is not to say we were using this system on a 70/30 per cent basis previously. This is a drastic shift and in some households where parents cannot pay bills, the internet may be cut or children cannot get food to eat. We must take into consideration that social challenges affect children’s learning.”He admitted that if schools go online for term three in the coming weeks and children are left out because their parent cannot pay fees, this will create a learning gap.“This is the reason why I ask principals and school managers to walk on the side of caution and look at the human side of it if the ministry has not yet declared a decision that the third term will begin in September,” McCollin said.