NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Education Minister Glenys Hanna Martin said yesterday that an initial search has revealed that nearly 1,000 students have been fully absent from school for nearly two years prompting “major concerns” over potentially widespread learning loss phenomenon.
During her contribution to the mid-year budget debate in Parliament, Hanna-Martin said “thousands of children of all ages “fell off the radar” in a completely virtual learning environment in the last two years.
“We now know from global research that the effect of this is significant learning loss which unless arrested will have a severe impact on the individual lives of the thousands of children concerned and to the qualitative progress of our nation as a whole,” she said.
“It is a serious matter to find these “missing” children the Ministry took a squarely pragmatic approach.”
The education minister explained that a national multi-agency committee was formed with governmental and non governmental participants. The committee was tasked with mapping out a strategy for finding and bringing these children back into the safety net of education.
“In the first task, administrators, teachers, clerical, security and janitorial staff, and managers and union leaders and representatives and various NGO’s and I might add, even myself hit the streets door to door in communities nationwide, simultaneously, in search of these young people,” Hanna-Martin said.
“The exercise yielded the location and identification of almost 1,000 children who had been fully absent from school for two years. In our inaugural walkabout and launch of this initiative on January, 11th, in Freetown alone, almost 60 children were identified. Within days of that walkabout Uriah McPhee Primary School saw an appreciable increase in student attendance.”
She continued: “I reiterate the commitment that relying upon our database and upon any other information received we will seek out every child. We ask parents and guardians to work with us as there is no acceptable barrier that should separate children from a firm education. It is a human right and it is their hope of a happy and decent existence.”
While students returned to face-to-face learning on January 24th, Hanna-Martin noted that two schools, namely the Patrick J Bethel High School on Abaco and T A Thompson Jr High School on New Providence have experienced lingering issues.
The education minister stressed that the potentially widespread learning loss phenomenon is a matter of major concern and focus of the Ministry of Education.
“The prolonged reliance on virtual learning or no formal instruction at all for almost two years has impacted the brains of thousands of children resulting in what is being described as learning loss,” she said.
An RFP has been developed with the assistance of UB and Ministry of Finance for the submission of proposals for a platform for a diagnostics, and where necessary, remediation program for each child.
“The main objective of this consultancy is the implementation of the assignment, which is necessary due to the very large number of students in the Public Sector who have been disadvantaged by not participating in the virtual lessons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the suspension of in person lessons in The Bahamas and across the world community,” Hanna-Martin said.
“The task ahead is mammoth. Our educational system was challenged long before COVID-19 but the pandemic has unleashed a furious crisis on us which if we are not careful can be enduring. If we fail to step up, the price will be paid and it will be astronomical.”
She said: “Already I am hearing anecdotal reports that this two year fallout has led to many young people falling into harm’s way including alcohol and drug abuse and worse especially amongst young males. We will never sacrifice our nation’s young people. We cannot and will not surrender our nation’s future to mediocrity and dysfunction and tragic human loss. We must fight for our children’s future.”