Minister of Education Juliana O’Connor-Connolly appeared alongside several of her colleagues during the 26 June government press conference to address questions about reopening Cayman’s schools.
The minister touched on efforts to support students during the past three months, including coordination of student care packs, daily meals and counselling services.
“We have also partnered with a range of charities to provide meals and care packets to students and families,” O’Connor-Connolly said, appearing via Zoom.
“We have established partnerships to provide internet access for students and teachers, transportation from the airport to isolation facilities, counselling support for students and staff, and to provide a laptop for every single student in our government schools in a new ‘one-to-one’ laptop initiative.”
Below are some of the main education questions addressed Friday by the minister and her staff. Read the minister’s full statement here.
How will student learning loss be addressed?
When students return to school in August, they will be assessed in English, maths and science, as well as mental health, to determine learning needs and guide interventions, O’Connor-Connolly said.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaWxp8dMMN8&t=11s
Private and public schools have been issued an ‘Education Recovery Plan Template’, developed by the Ministry of Education, to document their plans regarding learning loss, professional development, curriculum restructuring, assessment, and mental health support for students and staff.
The core subjects of English, mathematics and science have been given greater emphasis in the 2020/2021 curriculum.
The Ministry of Education is also exploring the possibility of extending the school day by half an hour to one hour. The effect on traffic will need to be considered before a new school schedule can be announced, however. O’Connor-Connolly pointed out that a previous change in school times contributed negatively to traffic congestion.
How are year-end exams being handled?
Plans have not yet been released for how the modified Caribbean Examinations Council process will look. Minister O’Connor-Connolly said a plan for secondary external exams had been developed and was under review.
The UK Examination Boards cancelled June exams in all jurisdictions in March.
When will schools reopen?
All new students at government schools will attend orientation on 25 Aug. It remains to be determined if this will happen in-person or online.
Not all students are scheduled to return to in-person learning on the same date.
On 26 Aug., in-person classes will resume for nursery, reception, and Years 1, 2, 6, 7, 10 and 11. Year 12 students at CIFEC will also return to classes that day.
Creek & Spot Bay Primary will determine if additional students will return to classes on that day as well.
Online classes will continue for Years 3, 4, 5, 8 and 9 until 9 Sept., when those students will also return to in-person learning.
The 2020/2021 academic calendar is now available online at www.education.gov.ky.
What safety and health protocol will be implemented?
The Ministry has issued a document, ‘Guidance for the Reopening of Schools and Early Childhood Care and Education Centres’, with recommendations on managing physical distancing, respiratory hygiene, enhanced cleaning and sanitising, student pick up and drop offs, playtime, and bus protocol.
Chief Officer Cetonya Cacho said steps are being taken to encourage social distancing, such as moving large pieces of furniture out of classrooms to provide space between desks. Shift systems will be implemented for breaks and lunchtime, and surfaces should be frequently sanitised. Separate school supplies should also be provided for each student to avoid sharing.
O’Connor-Connolly said mental health has also been given special consideration. Weekly counselling sessions have been made available to students and teachers, she said.
“Specific planning is underway to address student mental health and wellness when students physically return to schools,” the minister said.
“Students and their families have experienced trauma throughout the pandemic, and this needs to be addressed before learning can take place effectively.”
What consideration has been given for students with special needs?
Students with special needs will receive support from a specialist team, explained Chief Officer Cetonya Cacho.
“We have a team of educational psychologists, counsellors, speech and language therapists, hearing specialists, vision specialists, that are currently working on plans for those students as they come in,” Cacho said.
“Because we’ve been monitoring student progress for all of our students throughout the pandemic, we have a really good understanding of any gaps in learning the students may have and this includes students with special educational needs.”
Student reintegration plans should have been submitted on Friday for Lighthouse School and other facilities. These plans would include details about addressing specific student needs.
How is the Ministry of Education addressing student technology needs?
A programme is underway to provide 5,020 public-school students with computers. Minister O’Connor-Connolly said of those devices, 2,000 will be provided by the private sector.
The acquisition and operational cost for the programme is estimated at around $3 million, Minister O’Connor-Connolly said, adding that an annual allocation of just over $2 million will be necessary.
The goal is for students to have the devices by September, but the Ministry of Education is still in the planning and procurement process. Minister O’Connor-Connolly said she has put forward “a very bold and ambitious directive” to acquire devices for all public school students by that time and a committee has been established to speed up the process.
“I believe that if we’re going to continue to move this island nation to be respected on the global platform, we must embrace technology and our government is prepared to put resources behind that,” the minister said.
What has been done to support private schools?
A one-time grant of $750,000 is being provided to private schools that have been economically affected by the pandemic.
“All private schools were sent the application information and have the opportunity to apply for funding to the Private School Grant Committee chaired by Mr. Dan Scott, who will review all applications accordingly and provide funding based on the schools’ ability to satisfy the criteria,” O’Connor-Connolly said.
What did the minister say about the recently released distance-learning report?
O’Connor-Connolly said Friday that she welcomed and accepted the findings of a recently released Office of Education Standards report on distance learning.
“I want to specifically be emphatic about the fact that I, as minister, at the April press conference, unlike other OES reports, requested Mr. Peter Carpenter and his competent team do a report,” Minister O’Connor-Connolly said.
“I felt that it was very important that I knew what the strengths and weaknesses of this educational system in the Cayman Islands, at perhaps one of our worst times since 2004 of Hurricane Ivan. I feel pleased and satisfied that Mr. Carpenter, as well as my educational professionals, were operating in very unnavigated waters but worked assiduously and relentlessly to provide what I deem is a fair and independent report.”