The Covid -19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of the education system in modern history affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries. The closures of schools and other Institutions of learning have affected students across the world, in Antigua and Barbuda the story is no different.
The educational landscape have been transformed in the country. New teaching methods and ways of assessing students will have to be introduced and the return of students to classrooms mean that new arrangements will have to be made to accommodate students during this pandemic.
Indeed, the crisis is exacerbating pre-existing education disparities by reducing the opportunities for many of the most vulnerable students, youth and adults alike those living in poor or rural areas along with persons living with disabilities to continue their education. Learning losses also threaten to extend beyond this generation and erase decades of progress, not least in support of girls and young women’s educational access and retention.
On the other hand, the crisis has stimulated innovation within the education sector. We have seen innovative approaches in support of education and training continuity, from radio and television, to take home packages. Distance learning solutions were developed thanks to the quick responses by Governments and partners all over the world supporting education continuity.
We have also been reminded of the essential role of teachers and the necessity of Governments and other key partners providing support to our hard-working education professionals. The widespread use of technology to ensure learning continuity during the pandemic, including for the most marginalized.
To better cope with this transition, the Government will have to adopt several policy reforms aimed at strengthening public education in Antigua and Barbuda. Firstly, strengthening domestic resource mobilization to preserve the share of financing for education must become a top priority.
There, must be a commitment to tackle inefficiencies and deficits in public finance to aid in education spending. As widening the tax base in countries with a large informal sector takes time, other measures (fighting tax avoidance and evasion, revising tax incentives and treaties, etc. need to be explored without delay.
Further, the capacities of education stakeholders often need to be strengthened. Education actors at subnational levels need capacities to analyze health risks to learners, teachers, and school staff, and to identify learners at risk of dropping out. Consequently, it is essential that teachers and communities be better prepared and supported if equitable and inclusive learning, in and beyond classrooms, is to be guaranteed.
Technology alone cannot guarantee good learning outcomes. More important than training teachers in ICT skills, is ensuring that they have the assessment and pedagogical skills to meet students at their level and to implement the accelerated curricula and differentiated learning strategies likely to emerge in the return to school.
Finally, managing the education crisis requires a continuous monitoring of data at the student, teacher, and school levels. This monitoring will need to be based on a mix of existing data and assessment systems and potentially new approaches tailored to this specific context. An important element of a resilient education systems is its flexibility, which relies on strong articulation between levels and types of education, but also the capacity to mobilize alternative modes of delivery.
Given all that we have come to see from the unfolding of this pandemic the road ahead will be challenging. It will mean therefore that the stakeholders involved in the education process must act collectively to ensure that our children are given an education that can propel them in life. If there is anything less than this, it will retard social progress and undermine our economic development.