NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Schools across the country will reopen on October 5, though public schools on New Providence, Abaco and Eleuthera will only offer virtual learning.
During a Ministry of Education virtual press conference, Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd said schools on Grand Bahama and all other islands will facilitate traditional, face-to-face learning.
The minister encouraged parents to contact private schools to learn the model of learning those schools will offer, virtual, combined or face-to-face when schools open, noting that these institutions had the discretion to choose.
He said the delay in the opening of school will allow parents to get the electronic devices needed for online learning and for officials to complete the high-speed WiFi expansion program for all public schools — a process that was stalled due to previous lockdowns.
The minister acknowledged students whose homes for example do not have electricity will need to be assisted. He said for students in those circumstances a prepared package will be provided to them and graded weekly.
For students will special needs or other disabilities, Lloyd said in the first instance education officials will seek to engage as many of these students in the face-to-face learning model, and should the need develop for remote learning resources have been developed to assist parents and caregivers.
He also acknowledged the challenge that virtual learning places of parents, who will be returning to work, but have to take on the responsibility of providing oversight to their child’s school learning from home.
According to Lloyd, the ministry will in collaboration with churches and civic organizations allow students to “safely gather” at centers to have access to online services for learning.
Additionally, the minister announced all social services department offices and Urban Renewal Centres will become hotspots for WiFi for students.
Virtual learning will also be provided at the Willie Mae Pratt and Simpson Penn Centres, according to Lloyd.
Public libraries are also expected to be equipped with the necessary health and safety protocols to provide an alternative study space for students, according to Lloyd.
He said further details will be provided on the opening of schools when Parliament resumes next week.
Bus transport for schools will operate and conform will all health protocols, education officials said.
As it relates to school fees, Lloyd said if a child receives learning whether virtual or face-to-face, that service should be paid for.
“Questions have been asked that since the child is not sitting in the classroom, whether school fees should be paid,” he said.
“The answer is, if that child is receiving instructions from a private school then that service must be paid for.”
Lloyd also advised that lunch vendors have been trained to provide safe “grab and go” lunches and will adhere to all protocols. Students will be monitored while eating and drinking to ensure social distancing and health guidelines are recognized.
The minister said with the ministry’s virtual platform, some parents may opt to homeschool.
He noted that all homeschooled students must register with the ministry’s homeschooling unit, and that the concept is not to be used for parents to establish a school for multiple students in their home.
“That qualifies as being a school and the law states that person operating a school or intending to do so, must register with and be approved by the Ministry of Education,” he said.
“This is very important for all parents who may be unwitting participants in this.
“Be sure to verify the registration status of any such school before sending your child thereto.”
Education Director Marcellus Taylor said where connectivity to the Internet on certain islands such as Abaco remains a challenge in certain communities due to service providers, special devices uploading with learning tools will be provided to students.
The government has spent $12.6 million in Abaco and $5.2 million in Grand Bahama post-Hurricane Dorian for school repairs
Lloyd said the ministry is committed to providing students with electronic devices and has distributed 9,000 tablets to numerous islands.
He encouraged parents to purchase an electronic device as a priority as opposed to standard tools and books.
He also advised 500 administrators received tablets as a result of the ministry’s partnership with the Bahamas Telecommunications Company.
Additionally, education officials said teachers and administrators have been provided a range of electronic devices on school campuses, and the ministry has also partnered with service providers who offer devices to teachers and administrators at a “reasonable cost”.