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COVID19: Keeping children educated and safe at home

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The Ministry of Education needs to raise its game by a notch because although the distance learning system is gradually starting to take shape, we still have a long way to go to ensure the current school year ends on time, or at least by the end of July.

Technocrats are taking their time to ‘train’ teachers how to use the virtual classrooms, based on the Microsoft Teams platform, an easy-to-use and highly successful system already employed by millions around the world and in different environments.

The Cyprus education sphere is not unique, and any delays are unjustifiable.

Whether it’s the trainers or the trainees to blame, this should have been completed a long time ago and state school students should have already neared completion of their curriculum to start on revision after the Easter break and headed into the exams at the end of May, June or July.

Ironically, it is the Ministry that had been calling for reforms all this time and the teachers had been resisting. Now, it is the teachers who want to get a move on, and the Ministry is delaying.

Could it be that the Easter ‘holidays’ are just around the corner and that both Ministry staff and teachers are looking forward to their vacation time, to rest from the workload they have piled up?

Or is it that, in the absence of showing initiative, many want to emulate what could happen in some countries, that is for the entire nation to repeat the whole school year.

Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou’s comments a while back may have been overlooked when he said that this fast-track introduction of online teaching and virtual classrooms would be part of a “permanent arrangement for the future”.

It may be true that not all households have the latest laptop or PC, but every child over the age of eight has a mobile phone, most of which are smartphones and already chat with their friends using the same platforms – skype, zoom or other – that teachers are having difficulty to master.

However, several benefactors have come forward, donating tablets and other tools that will help schoolchildren catch up with their lessons.

Trouble is, with the new platforms being imposed on us because of the home confinement rules, it could be that Ministry staff and teachers will soon discover that there will be alternative methods to monitor one’s progress and thus evaluate the productivity of a teacher.

This had been unheard of prior to the coronavirus outbreak, as civil servants and teachers had enjoyed their own self-assessment methods, evaluating their work as ‘excellent’, which head-teachers or inspectors had no way of corroborating.

Perhaps this exposure could also lead to a general reform of how pay, rewards and promotions are determined, considering that teachers, as with all civil servants, will not sacrifice a cent from their salaries amid this crisis.

Despite private sector workers facing layoffs and pay cuts for the state to deliver the public sector payroll at the end of the month.

The situation we are facing today could be a godsend, in that education, if harnessed properly, could help propel our children to another level of learning and radically widen their horizons and not leave their minds to rot at home, just because some teachers are not up to moving forward.