Further to the announcement of the extended school closure until the end of the academic year, the Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports, Agriculture and Lands (MEYSAL) has issued policy guidance to all compulsory education institutions to ensure continuity of education during the physical closure of school sites. Compulsory education institutions include all primary and secondary schools servicing students aged 5-17 years old. The policy guidance supports education decision-making to develop and implement effective education responses to help reduce learning loss during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“The necessary social isolation measures implemented will disrupt school-based education for an extended period of time and will limit opportunities for students to learn in a classroom setting during the period of the shelter-in-place and social distancing orders. Recognizing these unfortunate effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Ministry is moving into the next phase of our education continuity planning. Learning loss for students is a crucial area to address as we navigate this pandemic. As this pandemic continues to impact the world, it is essential to attend to the educational needs of our children and youth,” said Lyneth Monteith, Acting Chief Officer for MEYSAL.
The policy guidance stipulates that school leaders should report education provision to the Ministry to include steps taken to develop and implement strategies which mitigate learning loss due to the pandemic. This reporting will provide the Ministry of Education and Department of Education Services the information on areas of support for schools. The detailed guidance document presents parameters for the school leaders to follow. The guidance provided addresses the following areas:
1. Monitoring and facilitating the health and safety of students and staff to ensure schools maintain social relationships and actively seek to monitor occurrences of hunger, insecurity, safety, abuse, psychological strain and more amongst staff and students. This includes the continuation of the delivery of health and wellness services including and not limited to; access to counsellors, special needs specialists and services from the Health Services Authority (HSA) Needs Assessment Unit (NAU), Family Resource Centre (FRC), Children and Family Services (DCFS).
2. Continuity of free nutrition services to ensure the provision of free school meals to those students in need.
3. Continuity of education instruction to stipulate that schools must employ one or more of three specific categories of learning in the absence of in-person instruction, based on resource availability and students’ individual needs and/or their grade level. The three category options are online, paper-based or combined online and paper-based learning. The importance of maintaining learning, establishing structures and routines, engaging students to create a sense of normalcy and ensuring provisions for special needs students are detailed as vital considerations in the development of education continuity plans during the extended school closures.
4. Prioritizing preparation for external examinations to facilitate students scheduled to take those external exams that are still available by the respective bodies.
5. Preparing for the re-opening of schools to ensure operational readiness once the ‘all clear’ is received from all relevant government authorities. Checks include staff planning, enrolment changes, school sanitation, staff awareness training and provision of special resources to support a range of behaviours displayed by staff and students that are associated with negative affects due to COVID-19 Pandemic.
Both public and private school leaders have received the policy guidance document and a template for weekly reporting.
Principal for Edna Moyle Primary School, Danielle Duran commented, “As a full-time educator and mother of two school-aged children, I wholeheartedly empathize with parents and families in relation to the challenges they now face with supporting distance learning at home. However, I do believe it is crucial that we do our very best to continue providing opportunities for distance learning. We were already pushing extremely hard to get our students up to speed prior to the pandemic. Now we are losing critical face-to-face learning time and therefore cannot afford to suspend all activities. Our teachers are working diligently to support students while also maintaining their own personal obligations. We have had a number of changes over the last few weeks and it is still a work in progress. With this policy guidance, we have added support to review the efficiency of our online learning platform and to provide parents with as much support as possible. Most importantly to ensure the well-being of our students remain our top priority.”
“The COVID-19 Education Response Plan will assist schools in preparing for 2020/2021 and provide the best possible education for all students in the Cayman Islands. Considering the current situation and the speed at which education has had to evolve, the Ministry of Education and Department of Education Services (DES) have done an outstanding job in developing a Continuity of Education Policy Guidance for Schools. As Head of School at St. Ignatius, I welcome this Policy Guidance and look forward to meeting the requirements laid out in the COVID-19 Education Response Plan, as well as playing our role in helping to minimize learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic.” added Emily Alexander, Head of School at St. Ignatius Catholic School.
COVID-19 Plans for 2020/2021 and 2021 /2022 school year for public and private schools are due to the Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports, Agriculture & Lands by Friday, 26 June, 2020.
For all official updates and information in relation to Education and the COVID-19 Coronavirus monitor, please visit www.gov.ky/coronavirus-education