Getting back to school is a priority
The Minister of Education, Diallo Rabain, has continued to promote the role that testing can play in getting our local schools to return in-person learning. He stated: “The saliva screening programme is an additional safety measure to keep our schools open while ensuring our staff and students’ safety.” I support the minister and his message regarding testing.
The education of our students is such a priority that there is a law that guides parents to have their children attend schooling in some form until they reach legal age. We can respect that people have the right of choice, but there are times that we have a responsibility to do what is best for the wider community. We need our teachers that have the responsibility of caring for Bermuda’s children to do all that they can to protect their students. For this reason, testing is not just necessary it is critical in helping us to return to in-person learning, the ultimate goal.
We have seen exams cancelled, assessments missed, and we have had multiple interruptions to our education. We have a collective responsibility to protect our children and that includes their physical and mental health. In-person learning is the best option for the education of our children. Students that have fallen behind and need more attention are missing out. Students that do not have access to internet or devices are being left out. The gap between those that have access and those that do not is increasing and that will have a devastating impact on the future of these students. We need to put the needs of our children first by giving them every opportunity for in-person learning. If testing on a regular basis provides that opportunity, then parents and teachers need to understand their responsibility and do their part to get our children back to school.
A full testing regime for schools with a contact-tracing programme that does not knock out whole classes or year groups needs to be implemented. Rapid-result testing would give early detection and help to prevent exposures. This should be a twice-weekly test using lateral-flow testing as a surveillance tool. This will help to identify asymptomatic cases, which would aid in preventing positive cases entering the classroom environment.
There are some schools that have the ability to implement these programmes and are looking at using them to return to in-person learning. Let’s not allow any of our students to fall farther behind because we cannot get enough consent to do the saliva tests. This change in testing regime will not be the answer to all of our issues, but connected to hand hygiene, mask wearing, classroom ventilation and social distancing, we have a plan of action.
Students need to have face-to-face interaction with teachers, and parents need to be able to return to work. In-school education is a priority.
We are responsible for the future of our students, so our choices need to put them first.
• Ben Smith is the Opposition Senate Leader and the Shadow Minister of Education