Guyana has been recognised for continuing the payment of salaries to teachers and for ensuring that teachers did not lose their jobs during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has had a tremendous economic impact around the world and forcing widespread staff cuts.
Head of Secretariat for the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030, Mr. Carlos Vargas Tamez, said that he was happy to know that in Guyana, the salaries of all teachers were not affected as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said this during the Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) hub International Conference held virtually on Wednesday.
At the time he was making a presentation on “Supporting teachers through advocacy, knowledge creation and sharing and country support”. He said that beyond training, teachers need support and appropriate conditions to teach inclusive education.
He said that he was very happy to hear of the example from the Honourable Minister of Education Priya Manickchand regarding the non-stopping of salaries, “because that is something we saw during the pandemic and we have seen how teachers’ contracts have suffered and not to mention the multiplication of workloads, of working hours, so that is something to consider.”
During her remarks, Minister Manickchand said that Guyana’s response to COVID mirrored much of the world with school closures beginning in March 2020. She said that as a country, it was decided to provide teachers and other public servants’ salaries as a social safety net.
The Education Minister then outlined additional steps taken as Guyana responded to the implications brought on by the pandemic in the education sector.
She said that after assuming office in August 2020, she undertook a tactical response to supporting children and families while they were out of school, borrowing from the Universal Design for Learning approach and methodology.
This support included having prepared curriculum-aligned worksheets for mass distribution, utilizing the Guyana Learning Channel and radio through Broadcasts to School to push education content over airwaves and making available all of the worksheets, study packages, textbooks and other helpful content available on the Ministry of Education’s website.
She highlighted some of the responses by teachers that rose to the challenge which exemplifies grit, determination and innovation so that students, as far as and as safe as possible remain engaged.
Minister Manickchand noted that some teachers formed online social networks with their students on Whatsapp and Facebook while some taught themselves to use virtual meeting platforms to engage students such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Edmodo.
Further, some teachers created and supported community spaces for children to access educational content such as community blackboards and drop off/pick up boxes.
She noted, “As a Ministry, we recognized the need for a comprehensive response to getting teachers to better and successfully adapt to their new teaching and learning reality.” To fulfil this, Minister Manickchand explained to the panel that the Ministry of Education entered into free professional development arrangements with Coursera and the Commonwealth of Learning where thousands of citizens including teachers were able to benefit from a myriad of certifiable courses of study from internationally recognized institutions.
To assist teachers to adapt to the new teaching and learning habits, Minister Manickchand mentioned that teachers were encouraged to improve their skills in the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for teaching, learning and innovation provided by the Ministry through a partnership with the ProFuturo Foundation. This specific venture has made Guyana the leading user in this region with over 8000 teachers enrolled and approximately 3800 of them completing all eight modules offered from Basic to Advanced proficiency.
She also spoke of the establishment of smart spaces in schools with the establishment of smart classrooms and the provision of technological inputs to students and teachers, starting first with the most underprivileged. These represent just some of the interventions by the Ministry of Education to address the impact COVID has had on the education sector.
According to the Education Minister, she does not believe the world has been able to measure the impact of COVID. However, she is of the view that the experience has given us a chance to reflect, withdraw and look at opportunities that might have been possible pre-COVID but were not implemented because we were too focused on the traditional means of delivering education.
“Guyana is going to ensure it uses the lessons learned during COVID to incorporate those fully into the teaching/learning process as we move forward post-COVID. We hope to get back into school by September 2021, and when we do, education will look differently,” the Education Minister noted.