By Dr. Amanda King MBBS (UWI) FRCP
Our world is in crisis. The word “crisis” originates from the Greek “krisis”, a parting of the ways, a point of uncertainty before events move on, the climax of a disease– the point after which a patient recovers, or does not. It indicates a time to “pivot”.
To pivot in the direction we all want will take a caring, visionary captain and all hands on deck.
We must understand that the COVID-19 pandemic is a war against a virus, as dangerous as a war with bombs and guns but more difficult to appreciate as the enemy is invisible and may be lurking in our closest family, friends and ourselves, without us even knowing.
Our workforce needs to be prepared, with COVID and other crises in mind. Education is key. Good education is not merely the effort to impart facts. It involves the process of training and developing the knowledge, skills, mind, and character of our people. We need to be empowered to develop self-efficacy, the belief that we can make a positive difference in our own lives, to find the motivation, discipline and determination to seek knowledge and skills and use them wisely for our good and the good of our country, according to our individual talents.
Self-management programs are useful for this.
We recognise that, utilised optimally, online resources are invaluable. Many Caribbean countries lag behind in embracing this platform and tweaking education to meet the various learning styles of our youth. The opportunity has been thrust upon us by COVID, but we still have not used it to the benefit of all. In 2020 in Barbados, 4000 children identified as vulnerable had no access to technology1. This needs to be addressed urgently.
Public-private partnership is able to solve this particular problem and it is a shame that it has not yet, but there is more than lack of devices and wifi to contend with. Even children who may have a device may not have the space conducive to study, the home support, the nutrition, or the discipline.
Teachers have reported increased absenteeism in all forms across all groups, logging on but not attending, turning off cameras and making excuses about wifi or devices, et cetera. Learning loss due to COVID in the US by the Fall of 2020 according to one estimate was equivalent to three months in Maths and one and a half months in reading. 2
It is hard enough to keep all children’s attention face to face, but, in the real classroom, a teacher can see when a student is distracted and find ways to draw them back in. Face to face school involves a degree of preparation, organisation, discipline, socialisation and more, that does not occur with online school.
As Sir George Alleyne, Barbadian scholar and Chancellor Emeritus of University of the West Indies said, “It is easy to underestimate the value of discipline of high school –of the years twelve to eighteen, but if such discipline does not become second nature by the end of adolescence, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to acquire it or have it inculcated later”.3 Online school can never replace that.
School is, or can be, safer than community. In Barbados, since children have been online in 2021, there has been an increased number of under 18s with COVID. This correlates with increased numbers in community and the Delta variant, but it also probably reflects more community interaction of youth out of formal school.
If children are embraced and empowered to understand why they need to contribute to this war effort, with the help of the Ministry, the principals and staff, bus drivers and community, we can keep everyone safe.
Our children must realise this crisis is theirs as much as ours .The future is theirs to create. They will be the entrepreneurs and innovators.They need to be taught ethics and moral values in a more determined way so they become adults with good reasoning skills and with resilience.This will take the involvement of the PTAs, the parents, community groups and church.
To be healthy and able to lead our countries well and be globally competitive, they should try to avoid COVID infection. One reason is that there are long term complications, or “Long COVID”, a problem threatening to become the new chronic non-communicable disease (NCD).
You may say ”I had COVID and I’m fine”. Well, how are the two or more people you probably gave it to? Do you know? According to the US Claims data, June 2021, of almost 2 million people infected with COVID, 55% were asymptomatic, that is, felt “fine”. However 19% (1 out of 5) of the asymptomatic group had post-COVID symptoms more than 1 month later. Of the 5% hospitalised with COVID, 50% had post-COVID symptoms more than 1 month later.4
The most common Long COVID symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath, sleep disorders, memory loss, inability to smell, depression and anxiety. These all affect quality of life and ability to function. It is too early to tell how long these symptoms will last.5
So yes, we must take measures to prevent COVID-19 but we must not waste any more time. We are falling behind other countries, which means it will be hard for our youth and our countries to be globally competitive.
We have kept children out of school because of high COVID numbers and low vaccination rates. We run the risk of more COVID, more long term consequences, and also encouraging an indisciplined, idle generation without requisite skills and knowledge to work, more crime as they become more disenchanted with life and feel disenfranchised.
Face to face learning in a controlled environment, enhanced by virtual learning and by a more holistic yet targeted and engaging approach is important.
My attention was recently drawn to South Korea as November is a significant month for that nation. Education is the tool South Korea used to rise out of poverty. After the Korean war South Korea was one of the poorest countries. Today it is home to many innovative technology companies and has a GDP of $1.619 trillion.
This massive progress is due largely to their high standard of education. With a strong cultural emphasis on education South Korea was able to develop a flourishing economy and facilitate poverty reduction. Government made education the biggest portion of the budget, after defense. Literacy rate in 1945 was 22%. By 1958 it was 96%. Unemployment is 3.7%.618 year old students just sat Suneung, South Korea’s annual marathon exam for which they prepared for 12 years with daily study often from 7:30 am to midnight, between school and Hagwons, after hours “cram” schools”.
On the day of Suneung South Korea stops all other activities. Police are out in force to ensure students reach the examination on time. A police siren on that day is the sound of police urgently getting a student to the exam. Such is the importance of their educational system. It is by no means perfect but there are lessons to be learned.
We have incredible talent and potential, enough to feed ourselves and to export globally. “Pride and industry” have done us well in the past. What we want now is to continue to nurture this talent while also ensuring equity. Let us find our Caribbean way to the future- a sustainable future where we all thrive with nature.
As Sir Arthur Lewis, St. Lucian Nobel Laureate said, “The fundamental cure for poverty is not money but knowledge”. Time to pivot.
- Blackman SNJ. The impact of Covid-19 on education equity: A view from Barbados and PROSPECTS. Published online August 23, 2021.
- Mind the gap: COVID-19 is widening racial disparities in learning, so students need help and a chance to catch up | McKinsey. Accessed November 27, 2021. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-lear ning-loss-disparities-grow-and-students-need-help
- The Grooming of a Chancellor. Accessed November 27, 2021.
- A Detailed Study of Patients with Long-Haul COVID. Published online June 15, 2021.
- Assessment of the Frequency and Variety of Persistent Symptoms Among Patients With COVID-19: A Systematic Review | Infectious Diseases | JAMA Network Open | JAMA Accessed November 27, 2021. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2780376
- How Education in South Korea Slashed Poverty. The Borgen Project. Published October 4,
- Accessed November 27, 2021. https://borgenproject.org/education-in-south-korea/
Other articles on COVID-19 by Dr. Amanda King:
- Global Collaborative Strategy to eradicate COVID-19- Dr. Amanda King St. Lucia Times 2021 Jan 28
- Safe St. Lucia-the place to be in 2020- The Star Newspaper 2020 Jul 3
- Six week strategy for success in St. Lucia against COVID-19- Dr. Amanda King 2020 April 24.
Note: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of St Lucia Times.