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Zena Ramatali

The National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA) is happy all students in Forms Four to Six will be back in the classroom from Monday. However, it is requesting an urgent audit of public secondary schools to assess this group of students to determine what is needed, so that they will not suffer any educational setbacks upon their return to classes.

In an interview yesterday, interim NPTA chairman Zena Ramatali said, “The education system must be transformed.

“I am concerned for children in government schools, where the attendance has been very low.”

She explained, “There ought to be an audit or report on all government schools, as to what is required, what is missing, what are the conditions at these schools. We just can’t put blame on the teachers. We have to look at if we are giving teachers the necessary tools to deliver quality education.”

Pointing to the fact that not all children had been online during the past 19 months, Ramatali said while mostly mid to upper class families could have afforded the necessary tools for their children to continue learning.

“There are many children who have suffered tremendously because of not having connectivity, not having devices…this has been the cry from many parents who could not have afforded proper devices or to pay their internet bills because they had to put food on the table,” she said.

Asked what feedback the NPTA had received from parents who were hesitant to get their children vaccinated and now had no choice but to send them back to school, Ramatali said vaccination still remained a personal choice.

Looking abroad to countries that had reopened and students had returned to the physical classrooms in a safe manner, she advised, “We have to trust that everything goes well. It is not a perfect situation because we are in a pandemic but the ministry will have to put plans in place after consultation with stakeholders, so that in the event of another pandemic or an outbreak of Delta…we would have a proper system that can benefit the children.”

Ramatali added, “It is up to parents to vaccinate or not to vaccinate and I can’t tell parents to vaccinate or not. The ministry could not make this decision for them either.”

Meanwhile, she is appealing to the Ministry of Education to ensure schools get the necessary funds on time, to purchase sanitising agents and other materials to continue the strict hygiene regimen that is needed when the students return.

“Schools must be properly sanitised and the janitorial staff must be fully trained to do the type of sanitising that is required to ensure the health and safety of our children,” she said.

On the issue of staggering recess periods and allowing students to eat lunch at their desks to reduce congregation, Ramatali said, “There must be adequate supervision because even though these are older children, we have to make sure they do not mingle, keep on their masks and they do what they have to do to avoid and minimise contracting any virus, much less the COVID-19 virus.”

She called on parents to be extra vigilant and reinforce the “new rules” whenever they get a chance.

“Too many times parents have this hands-off approach, but now is a time to join hands with principals and teachers and the PTAs so we can have a smooth transition from home to school and what is expected at school.”

She advised the ministry to use this period to repair and outfit schools for the return of Forms One to Three students next year and said some schools do not have the physical capacity needed to accommodate all the forms, especially with social distance requirements, adding this should be looked at now as a different system may be required in some schools.