Day care centres, childminding services, professional centres and the School of Advanced Level Studies (Sals) are all set to reopen their doors on Monday May 11, as announced by President Danny Faure during his address on April 27 on the easing of restrictions in place against the COVID-19 pandemic.
As with other departments and business organisations, such educational institutions are having to prepare to adapt to the ‘new normal’ and to adhere to guidelines and advisories of the department of health by practising social and physical distancing and improving hygiene levels.
According to Minister for Education and Human Resource Development Jeanne Simeon, the ministry has been engaged with the Public Health Authority (PHA) since the national health emergency was announced, and schools and such services were ordered to close, as per the Public Health Act.
In preparation for the re-opening and the ‘new normal’ brought about by the pandemic, the ministry established a task force comprising officials from the ministry as well as representatives of the PHA whose role is to discuss the adoption of guidelines and procedures proposed by the department of health and to draw up action plans as the country get used to the ‘new normal’ once educational institutions reopen.
According to Minister Simeon, three sub-committees have been established by the task force, one for childminding and day-care operators which is headed by the chief executive of the Institute of Early Childhood Development Shirley Choppy who was also present during the press conference yesterday, a second for primary and secondary education headed by principal secretary for early childhood, primary and secondary education Odile De Comarmond as well as a third for Professional centres, Sals, University of Seychelles (UniSey) and The Guy Morel Institute, headed by principal secretary for tertiary education Linda Barallon.
The sub-committees have been tasked with developing action plans to guide the institutions for the re-opening, inclusive of the preparations ahead of the re-opening, as well as practices which must be maintained during operation. Public Health officials are also members of the sub-committees.
Minister Simeon noted that the sub-committees have been actively engaged in consultation and dialogue with stakeholders such as the Seychelles Public Transport Corporation (SPTC), childminders, school leaders and management, tuckshop operators, school meal services and school councils.
The action plans are based on three guiding principles as advised by the PHA, namely, the need for heightened vigilance in order to detect possible cases of infection in staff and students, maintenance of social and physical distancing and proper hygiene and sanitation facilities, which “needs to be more meticulous and precise” in such institutions, Minister Simeon said. Action plans and guidelines have been vetted and are in conformity with PHA guidelines.
Cleaning service operators have been brought on-board to ensure cleanliness and proper hygiene.
“As part of our preparation plan, across all our institutions including primary and secondary schools, a deep cleaning exercise is being carried out as our schools have remained closed for around six to eight weeks. It is basically an overall disinfection and fogging by the PHA, and also upgrading of facilities to improve hygiene and be in conformity with PHA guidelines. For instance, at some schools we need to add handwashing facilities and this has been happening throughout this week and will continue through next week,” Minister Simeon added.
The ministry also this week met with employees of the centres and shared with them the respective actions plans for the institutions so they too can prepare and properly implement the guidelines. School management have been back at work since this week, Minister Simeon said, to ensure that preparations are underway and completed on time.
With regards to employees and teachers of primary and secondary schools, Minister Simeon announced that all teachers are expected to be in school as of Monday May 11, so they too can plan and prepare for the re-opening of schools. During the week commencing May 11, parents are also being urged to return homework and learning materials that pupils have completed at home, to allow teachers to within the week mark and review when classes resume.
She concluded by congratulating all parents who made the effort and took the time to teach their children while at home, in line with the chosen theme, education, a shared responsibility.
Dr De Comarmond clarified that AS Level exams have been suspended this year, although A Levels exams are still on. For students sitting A Level exams, extra classes will be organised to ensure that they catch up and complete the syllabus for their respective subjects. As for the upcoming four-week semester break, it has been decided that it will be reduced to only one week.
As for professional centres, namely, the National Institute of Health and Social Studies (NIHSS), the Seychelles Business Studies Academy (SBSA), the Seychelles Institute of Art and Design (SIAD), the Seychelles Institute of Agriculture and Horticulture (SIAH), the Seychelles Institute of Technology (SIT), the Seychelles Institute of Teacher Education (SITE) and the Seychelles Maritime Academy (SMA), Dr Barallon proposed that larger institutions may use a staggered approach after reopening, and have different groups of students and employees start gradually, the details of which will be communicated through national media by Friday.
Centres are visited by PHA officials to ensure that they are compliant with the provisions and guidelines laid out in the action plans before the go-ahead to re-open, and thus far, all are expected to re-open as scheduled on Monday.
Dr Barallon further pointed out that not all educators end employees of professional centres will be returning to work on Monday, on account that some parents are permitted to stay home provided they have children under the age of 15, as per the Employment (Coronavirus Special Leave)( Temporary Measures) Regulations, 2020, which are effective until primary and secondary school institutions re-open on May 18.
Minister Simeon also spoke about cleaning facilities for all institutions, noting that deep cleaning was usually conducted once a month but is now underway including fogging by the PHA as well as upgrading of the different school facilities, to make schools more hygienic. Senior management of professional centres are currently in schools supervising the deep cleaning work.
Minister Simeon launched a call for all school employees to be present at their respective institutions by Monday March 11 rather than three-days prior to the reopening as is usually the case, in preparation for the Monday May 18 opening. During the week, teachers have the responsibility of reorganising their classrooms and school premises ahead of the reopening.
Daycare centres and childminding services
As for day care centres and childminding services, Mrs Choppy noted the provisions of the action plan for day care centres and childminding services. The plan has four key objectives, based on the three guiding principles, including vigilance, screening of children, establishing a designated sick bay (isolation area) as well as establishing procedures for when a child or employee is sick. Daycare operators and childminders have been given a list of essential contacts should they wish for further information or advice and officially met with the task force of the ministry and public health officials on Tuesday and Wednesday, in preparation for the re-opening.
On Tuesday, 158 childminders, both registered and unregistered, attended the meet, followed yesterday by a similar meeting with 26 day care operators on Mahé. Mrs Choppy said while she encourages all service providers to register, they could not be excluded from the meet, on account that it is a public health matter.
“As of now, we are requesting these two services to keep a contact list of the parents whose children are under their care and to document who the children have interactions with, so if there is ever a case, it would be easy for the PHA to do the contact-tracing,” Mrs Choppy explained.
As for how social distancing will be maintained in such facilities, Mrs Choppy noted the emphasis on quota limitations, as approved by the ministry. Staggered break and meal times are also being emphasised as well as other measures such as not sharing a common eating area and demarcations to facilitate social distancing. Hygiene being an important aspect, operators have been brought up to speed and during the meet all received an information pack.
IECD and the ministry have made available to the service providers a set of eleven guidelines and leaflets to guide their operations as well as a second one aimed at parents. For those who missed the meet, Mrs Choppy said all efforts will be made to get into contact with them so they can be briefed and access the information pack. Those who have not received the information pack and accompanying certificate will not be allowed to open on Monday until they interact with IECD.
Public Health Official Juliette Anderson urged that parents remain vigilant and verify if the service is displaying the certificate and to question whether the operator has indeed completed the briefing.
Ms Anderson also urged parents to seek medical attention when a child is sick as opposed to bringing them in to care.
She also appealed to them to be forthcoming with information if requested by the childminder or operator as part of the screening process.
Mrs Choppy noted that there will be routine visits three days per week to different service providers to ensure that they are compliant with guidelines and PHA if there are issues pertaining to health and hygiene.
With regards to the opening of crèche, primary and secondary schools, scheduled for May 18, a press conference with the ministry and its partners will be held over coming days.
Laura Pillay – Nation.sc