This country’s next Minister of Education will be taking up a weighty portfolio at a time of critical transformation of that sector.
For that person there will be no honeymoon period as within days of taking office—if there is a smooth transition after the August 10 election—the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) will take place. The CSEC and CAPE exams will also still be on the radar.
Administrative issues surrounding these exams will require a lot of attention as they will be taking place against the backdrop of COVID-19, a virus that attained pandemic levels early this year and quickly threw the public-school system into disarray.
The most challenging school term in recent T&T history ended on Friday but some level of activity will be sustained throughout this month and August as the SEA students will be back in physical classes from July 20 and just over a week from now, on July 13, the CSEC and Cape exams will begin.
The next Education Minister should have change-management skills as the coronavirus has taught the world that the old ways of doing things are too prone to disruptions to be maintained. The antiquated methods that are still being used in many parts of the education sector must be dispensed with. A new system should start to take root when the 2020/2021 school year begins on September 1.
When schools were forced to close in March, thousands of students without internet access and computers were locked out of learning opportunities. Classes switched to online but for many, there was no way to log in. Some television programming, including daily live sessions broadcast on CNC3, saved the day for many but couldn’t fully compensate for the inability of some to engage with their classmates and teachers.
Students at poorly equipped schools also lost out on months of teaching time.
The challenge now is to bring about some major changes in policies and operating systems to ensure that at every level in the sector, from early childhood to tertiary, there is access to quality education for all.
COVID-19 has exposed the extent to which delivery of education to marginalised children must be improved. This country’s education system has largely failed to adapt to ensure that all children are receiving the support and learning opportunities they need.
T&T’s next Education Minister must quickly determine how best to apply technology to learning and practice.
Hopefully, work has already started on facilitating the increased connectivity needed to transform how knowledge is transmitted.
The school repair programme will have to be expanded to cover the retrofitting of classes to support a range of electronic learning systems. With very few exceptions there has been a failure to harness technology to systematically transform the teaching and learning environment.
It will be a disservice to the children of this country if a Minister of Education is appointed that adopts a business as usual, incremental approach to improving the school system.
Too many children have been left behind for too long to leave things as they are.