When students head back to school next month, things will look, feel and sound a whole lot different.
For starters, many students will be stepping into a virtual world where their interaction with their teachers and classmates will be through a computer screen. Lunch breaks will take place in the kitchen or at the dining room table, and it might be a little harder to tell who grew over the summer.
This is the new reality – a virtual reality. It’s one that many progressive Bahamians and residents have been agitating for, for years.
There have been repeated calls for the Ministry of Education to fully embrace technology so that students could benefit from online learning. However, it was never a priority. Covid-19 changed all that.
The virus, which The Bahamas is struggling to contain, has single-handedly pushed this nation into the 21st century, forcing the citizenry to adapt to technology and rather quickly.
Online learning is a divisive topic. There are critics who believe it’s a watered down version of face-to-face instruction. However, proponents believe it would allow students to study at their pace and in a more comfortable environment.
E-learning is not easy. For students who already had great difficulty learning in a classroom setting, this could be challenging.
And if we’re being honest, some parents are simply not equipped to give their children the support they need because they do not understand the work. And depending on the grade their child is in, it could get even more difficult.
However, without the constant distraction of classmates, it may actually allow some students to actually focus.
Considering the fact that this nation has struggled to move past a national grade average of ‘D’ I say it’s time to try something new.
Parents Stand To Benefit
While I certainly understand working parents’ concerns about who will stay at home with their children, I think they should really look for the silver lining in all of this.
They won’t have to worry about driving every day in traffic for school drop-offs and pick-ups. They don’t have to come up with extra money for lunch because their children can eat at home and they don’t have to worry about their children complaining about bullies or being threatened on campus.
Perhaps this new normal will spill over into the workplace. There are many jobs that do not require employees to go into the office to do their jobs. They should continue allowing them to work from home, or allow them to telework a few days per week.
These are unusual times. Employers need to be more sympathetic to parents with young children.
We must move past this outdated thinking that an employee has to be in an office to actually be working. Covid-19 proved that many of the jobs that employers said could not be done remotely actually could be.
Repeated government lockdowns have forced many businesses to restructure. They, too, should look at the cost savings involved with having employees telework. It costs money to run the electricity, water and buy office supplies.
Naturally, this won’t work for everyone. Some employees are required to interface with the public and others are completely inept when left to their own devices.
But, those who are not client facing or who have proven that they can be trusted to get their job done and are actually productive while working from home, should be allowed to continue teleworking.
There Will Be Challenges
Schools were initially scheduled to reopen on September 21. They’ll now resume on October 5.
Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd says the delay will give parents an opportunity to get the devices they need to allow their children to participate in school activities.
“There is also a need to complete installation of the adequate level of internet service needed for connectivity to the department’s virtual platform for thousands of students who will now remain at home in both the public and the private education sectors,” he said.
In New Providence, Abaco and Eleuthera students will learn in a virtual setting. Students in Grand Bahama and other Family Islands will benefit from face-to-face classes.
I fully expect hiccups when school reopens on October 5. It’s inevitable.
No amount of preparation will insulate the ministry from technical issues. They are bound to happen with thousands of students logged in to the system each and every day. A lot of the learning – for the students and the Ministry of Education – will be by trial and error.
Teachers will also have to figure out how to prevent students from cheating. More than likely they will rely on some sort of honour system. It’s not failproof, but it’s one that some of the best universities around the world employ.
I think if we look at this situation through a lens of positivity we may find that this can work.
Sadly, students who are entering the seventh grade and the 12th grade are really being robbed of such a special moment in their learning. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done about it. These are just the times we’re living in.
It’s disappointing that it took a global pandemic to get us to this point. We are in a crisis. Let’s not waste the opportunity it has given us.
This Bahamian Gyal