NASSAU, BAHAMAS — With a whopping 15,000 students demonstrating intermittent attendance to virtual learning platforms, the pandemic’s impact on children has both local and global stakeholders on high alert for a lost generation.

Faced with the challenges of COVID-19 but very little autonomy over their lives, how well a child fares in this new environment is directly linked to their socioeconomic status.

Last year, UNESCO reported that “uneven access to digital learning resources and parental support are amplifying the digital divide and inequalities among young people…Closing schools expose children to multiple risks. The longer schools are closed, the more children suffer from extensive learning losses with long-term negative impacts, including future income and health.

It added: “Depending on their age, gender, and disability, or socio-economic status many children (especially adolescents) do not return to school after long closures, and many more are expected to suffer permanent losses to their learning. In addition, children rely on schools for nutrition, psychosocial support, and health services.”

Public schools are expected to resume hybrid models including face-to-face learning by the second week in January as widespread and aggressive assessments are being planned to identify learning gaps.

One third-grade teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “I’m exhausted. We’re doing full virtual zoom classes but you still can’t get through as much content as you need to, between having discussions like constantly having to tell them their mic is on mute, even those little things take a huge chunk of your lesson time away.

The teacher continued: “You want to give the students and parents grace, obviously, a lot of them need assistance in making sure they get work uploaded and pictures are clear. But for certain students, you don’t know how much of the work is actually their own. Evaluating kids get even more challenging for those who don’t have their parents doing it, because if there is a challenge they are experiencing you don’t see it until after they uploaded the homework.

“A lot of times you’ve already moved on from the subject. You try to monitor based on discussions but there are things you can’t notice unless you walk around and observe kids as they’re working.”

In a country where the economic divide is so steep that it disadvantages access to funding for developing nations, there is a distinct socioeconomic gap between people who are adapting and thriving in this pandemic, and those who are – at best – surviving. This gap is mirrored in every sector, at every stage, but perhaps most critically for our children.

“Worldwide, I think education has really changed over the years,” said the third-grade teacher.

“There is a lot more pressure on students to be above where we would have been when we were kids, there is that pressure there on both teachers and students.

The teacher said: “Kids learn differently, so some kids with virtual they do exceptionally well and then there are those that need that face to face. Definitely, with government schools there are a lot of gaps, to begin with, so then when we have these students with no access to the internet, no access to devices.

“As a teacher, it’s harder to get through the required curriculum because of loss of time. I do think we are in a better state than the US where they don’t force kids to have cameras on. Here we have a different environment where schools have set the rules.

The third-grade teacher added: “I really worry what’s going to happen with the government schools, when I taught in public school half of the kids didn’t have running water, let alone electricity to be signing in online. I’m really really worried a lot of teachers are exhausted to just about their breaking point, if not their breaking point.”

Some teachers are calling for more than a resumption of school but a total pivot on education that reflects the post-COVID reality.

“Everything in the world has pivoted except education,” said Rayette Spence, a sixth-grade private school teacher.

“We are in a whole different climate and expecting the same results, the same amount of grades, expecting to prepare kids for exams the same way and it’s just not possible.

“We’re caught in this whirlwind. It’s crazy tiring and discouraging for teachers. We are tired, something has to happen, some kind of pressure from somewhere has to be lifted. I think we have to find a way to pivot, we just can’t go on this way. Teachers are getting discouraged. We’re going to find more and more teachers leave the profession.”

Spence believes the first thing that should be targeted for a revamp is the national testing regime. She suggested less focus is placed on those exams and other criteria are established for admission into local institutions like the University of The Bahamas.

She continued: “If it’s rough for me and I have blended learning where I see my kid, I can’t imagine other teachers that have not seen their children. How do we actually get them to learn and engage in concepts? As simple as teaching fractions, yeah I can show them a video but I need them in front of me, we need to touch it, see it, taste it, it’s a challenge. I feel a lot of kids are going to be left behind and then there is going to be a gap and who is going to fill that gap? Is it only that the private school children will eat the fat of the land?”

“We have done nothing, we did absolutely nothing. We knew from last year these children went signing on what did we do differently this academic year?”

Spence said: These kids home by themselves, they have no real supervision and parents have to go work. We put nothing in place. Even if students were not able to go into schools, maybe kids that really needed it could go to a center and spread them out. I don’t know. Everything in the world has pivoted except education but who’s coming to the table?

“We’re not being asked any questions, all we’re being told is do this do that, and we gotta follow these rules. We have to bring the teachers to the table because at the end of the day, we’re the ones that have to move this thing forward. Ask us what is the way forward.”

For Prodesta Moore, founder of Women United, the psycho-social impact of COVID-19 represents a continuation of the trauma inflicted by Hurricane Dorian.

Women United is staging a “Stop the Violence” march and demonstration this morning at 8.30am. Participants will march from Fort Charlotte to Rawson Square for a full lineup of speakers and presentations until 4pm.

“There are kids that haven’t gotten the support they needed from going through (Hurricane) Dorian, and then COVID-19 came on stream,” Moore said.

“A lot of the impact is psycho-social, a lot of them have been traumatized by what they saw in Dorian with the loss of parents and loved ones and having to still live through that. There are those children that would have lost family to COVID, but there is also the massive disruption to the school system.

“The social aspect of the face-to-face learning, not having the social skills anymore or the lifestyle that they were accustomed to or the things because budgets are so different. Psychologically its played a huge impact that parents are not paying attention to because they are focused on the home, the bills.

“We had a demo the other day and one child was like I lost my PlayStation, to us that looks like nothing much that’s a PlayStation but to a child losing these things and ability to interact with their peers, it has a huge impact on our children.”

“I really wouldn’t say it’s a lost generation,” said Moore.

“If the community steps in and supports what we are trying to do. It’s lost if we do nothing if we sit by and do absolutely nothing. We know gender-based violence has increased in homes. Parents are also stressed and emotionally strained, this is how we can step in and support, for those of us who have let’s share, those who know how to counsel and mentor, let’s do that.”

About Ava Turnquest

Ava Turnquest is the head of the Digital Department at Eyewitness News. Her most notable beat coverage spans but is not limited to politics, immigration and human rights, with a focus especially on minority groups. In 2018, she was nominated by the Bahamas Press Club for “The Eric Wilmott Award for Investigative Journalism”. Ava is deeply motivated by her passion about the role of fourth estate, and uses her pen to inform, educate and sensitize the public.