The Hon. Diallo Rabain, Minister of Education speaks on remote learning during the current COVID-19 outbreak
Good evening Bermuda. Thank you for joining us.
This evening I will provide a detailed update for what is to take place for schools, after the Easter Break.
On March 23rd I announced that the Easter Break for our public schools would commence on Monday, March 29th, instead of Monday, April 5th. I also shared that the last day of Term 2 for students would be Friday, March 26th and students would return to school as normal on Monday, April 12th.
This decision to commence the Easter Break one week early was made proactively, out of caution, and after acknowledging that the rise in the number of positive COVID
cases was disrupting staffing levels at schools, with teachers being ordered to quarantine. Shortly after that, the Ministry of Health announced the updating of the Health Regulations that included the closing of all schools for student attendance.
In light of the Ministry of Health informing us that Bermuda now has the status of community transmission, we continue to keep the safety and health of our students, school staff, parents, and the community at large as our top priority.
We recognize that COVID
-19 is not something that will be going away any time soon, and we understand how critical it is that we balance not only the safety and health of our students, but also the necessity for their continued learning. To achieve this, the Education Emergency Measures Committee (EEMC), is continuously evaluating the evidence, the data, and the psychological impact of the pandemic on schools and families.
On Monday April 5th the EEMC met, and was informed that the Ministry of Health Regulations which are currently in place will continue for at least two additional weeks starting April 12th. As these regulations require schools to be closed for students, the EEMC discussed schools moving to remote learning commencing Monday, April 12th, when the next school term begins.
The Ministry of Health Regulations apply to public and private schools. Therefore, all public and private schools will transition to remote learning starting Monday, April 12th, 2021. While it was annouced last night that remote learning will continue to at least April 23rd, the current data we have looked at, indicates that a more likely date for remote learning will be at least until May 7th. This date will be reviewed when the EEMC next meets, and if the data indicates that in-school learning can commence at an earlier date, we will update the public at that time.
Remote Learning for Bermuda Public School Students (BPSS)
Parents and guardians of Bermuda Public School students are advised that classes will commence at 1:00 p.m. on Monday, April 12th, 2021, with a modified schedule for the day. Effective Tuesday, April 13th students and staff will then follow the remote learning guidelines and schedules that were in place for their schools during December 2020.
For those wondering why there will be a delayed start to the day on Monday, April 12th, the time given during the morning is to afford school staff the opportunity to collect from their respective school buildings, the resources needed to effectively engage students in remote learning and services, and to collect resources that will be used to prepare learning packets.
We want our teachers and school staff to have what they need to effectively commence remote learning for our children. We identified this need due to the fact that when schools closed early for the Easter Break on Friday, March 26th, the majority of schools were still open for in-person teaching and learning. Therefore, school staff was not aware that they would be returning to remote learning after the Easter Break and as such, they need time to collect resources and prepare.
A summary of the Bermuda Public School Remote Learning Guidelines, established in December 2020, was sent to parents and guardians in December via The Scoop newsletter. We will send a summary of those guidelines again this week, via The Scoop.
Parents and guardians, if you are not receiving The Scoop newsletter, please contact your school administrator to confirm that we have your correct email address in our PowerSchool system. During this pandemic, in some cases, contacting parents has proven difficult as it has been discovered that their contact information may have changed but updated contact information has not been updated in PowerSchool. It is critical that we are able to contact parents and this is done through PowerSchool. If you are unsure of whether your contact information is accurate, please forward an email to email@example.com.
Also, to facilitate a smooth transition to remote learning, school leaders will ensure that all students, parents, and guardians, receive information about the guidelines, schedules, services, programmes, and all other pertinent information related to remote learning. Principals will also ensure that learning packets are prepared and that parents are provided with the information for the collection of learning packets.
As per normal procedures during remote learning, school staff will have access to the IT Service Desk and there will also be support for staff who use Schoology.
We are also advising parents and guardians that proficiency scales and essential curriculum documents for primary and middle levels are now accessible from the Department of Education’s website on the Essential Curriculum page.
As previously announced, due to the generous donation from the Hasso Plattner Foundation, funding for 1600 Chromebooks was received, and an order was placed last August.
We are disappointed that due to the global crisis resulting from the pandemic, we have yet to take receipt of that order. We know there are students within the BPSS that could benefit from using these Chromebooks as we have worked diligently to prepare our system for their integration.
As of today, the local vendor has provided an update that places the shipment in Florida, being prepared to ship to Bermuda. We are hopeful of receiving the delivery in approximately 2 weeks.
Once received, the Chromebooks will have to be configured and training done with them and our staff and students. I thank you for your patience as we have worked weekly to receive the necessary updates from the local vendor, and we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
School Buildings Guidelines
To maintain the safety and cleanliness of our public school buildings during the remote learning period, school custodians will continue with the daily cleaning and sanitizing regime. School staff, for both public and private schools, are advised that if an entire school or one or more classes were sealed due to COVID
-19 exposure, no one is authorized to enter the school or classroom until Environmental Health sends the Principal an official release letter.
School buildings will remain closed to all students during remote learning; however, parents will be notified when your child may go into a school building to collect his/her books and materials or for any other purposes, as cleared by the Department of Health.
Additionally, with the permission of the school Principal or Preschool Administrator, school staff will have access to their buildings to conduct remote lessons and to prepare learning packets.
Please note that when students and school staff enter school buildings, they must adhere strictly to the established safety and health guidelines and protocols.
Cambridge Checkpoint and IGCSE Exams
Many parents and members of the community have queried whether the Cambridge Checkpoint diagnostic assessments should be administered in April 2021 and the IGCSE and other international examinations in May and June 2021.
Firstly, allow me to reassure you that globally Cambridge International registered centers are still providing in-person examinations for students, and they have produced a special edition safety guidebook with options to assist jurisdictions in navigating the exam protocols.
The decision has been made to move forward with assessments and the Department of Education will administer the P6 and M3 Checkpoint assessments and the IGCSE examinations while adhering to strict safety measures outlined from the Department of Health. This will be carried out in conjunction with the guidance handbook for the Cambridge International Exams that ensures the fidelity and security for the administration of the exams under the current circumstances of the pandemic.
The Checkpoint assessments are administered to P6 and M3 students in April of each year, prior to students transitioning to M1 and S1 respectively. It is important for parents to note that the assessments for P6 and M3 apply to vertical years of teaching and learning and not just the final years of P6 and M3 respectively.
With our P6 students and M3 students writing their respective assessments at these transition points, primary and middle schools gain valuable information about students’ strengths and areas for improvement that can be used to make revisions for the delivery of programmes at their respective school levels. Additionally, the middle and senior schools that receive the incoming students in September are able to receive valuable assessment data that can be used to plan and make informed decisions about the teaching and learning experiences for the incoming students. These data are critical in supporting intervention strategies for teaching and learning, and for overall school improvement.
The Checkpoint data becomes even more important this year because the students in P6 and M3 did not sit common summative assessments at the end of the 2020 academic year when they were P5 and M2 students. Given that our schools were under remote learning from March to June 2020, the summative assessments were not administered and the Department was not able to secure any end-of-year assessment data for these students when they were in P5 and M2.
If we decided to not administer the Cambridge International assessment this year, it would make for two years of no data for students transitioning to middle and senior schools, and two years of no summative or diagnostic data for the Bermuda Public school system for these year groups. While the Checkpoint assessments are diagnostic in nature, the data provide us with a snapshot of strengths and areas for improvement as a system and for individual school improvement goals and targets. We also believe it would be extremely beneficial for parents to know the strengths and areas for improvement for their P6 and M3 children as they complete their primary and middle-level education.
We are often asked by parents how they can support learning at home in a meaningful way, and this personalized data on their child’s performance plays a critical role in supporting the type of out-of-school learning experiences that parents seek to provide.
While we recognize the importance of these assessments in the best interests of our students, rest assured that we are also prioritizing the safety of our teachers and students in the process. As a result of the health and safety considerations, we will be implementing a saliva testing programme for students and staff to undergo prior to the administration of these examinations.
Additionally, I can report that our senior school leaders have proactively commenced discussions with the Department of Health about the safe administration of the IGCSE examinations for senior school students, and they have created a contingency plan for assessed grading.
Bermuda, we recognize that the decision to switch to remote learning will be inconvenient for many families and we apologize for this. As the Premier said in the press conference yesterday, the matter of Parents unable to work due to the fact of schools being closed was addressed in Cabinet on Tuesday. Rest assured that hardship isn’t lost on us; we are working on a solution and will look to discuss that more to develop solutions specifically for parents who find themselves in this position.
We empathize with parents and guardians who may be finding it challenging to find balance during this time; however, we are alerting you of this decision with the intention that you can pull your village together to accommodate students remaining at home for remote learning. We are also asking our island’s employers to be understanding during this period.
The EEMC will meet again the week of April 19th to assess the data and evidence presented, and ultimately determine what additional adjustments will need to be made to the current remote learning dates.
As we continue to pride ourselves on transparently sharing information regarding our COVID
-19 protocols, we will provide an update to our school community and the public following our next EEMC meeting, during the week of April 19th.
To all of our students, school staff, and their families, we understand that there may be apprehension at the thought of sitting assessments and exams at this time. However, we encourage you to focus on all of the hard work and dedication that you have given for teaching and learning during this pandemic. Bermuda, as a country, believes in you and we are here to support you.
To the general public, if you know any of our students personally, please reach out to them, and their families, to see how you can uplift, affirm, and support them as they continue to learn remotely and prepare for assessments and exams.
To our students, breathe, stretch, and put your best foot forward to face your exams and assessments with optimism and confidence. Your input is necessary so that we can gauge where you are and determine how we can best help to propel you forward.
In closing, Bermuda, I remind you that the vulnerable must be protected. That means we must all be considerate of how exposure to COVID
-19 affects students, schools, teachers, parents, and the larger community. Each of us has a role to play in stopping the spread of the coronavirus
. Follow Public Health guidelines, wear a mask, practice good hand hygiene, maintain physical distance and download the WeHealth Bermuda App. If you have not already done so, register to get vaccinated.
We ask everyone who has children, family, or friends associated with the school system to use caution and to strictly adhere to the Government's safety measures, to help us contain this latest community transmission, and reduce the spread of COVID
-19. We must all work together – wear your mask correctly, wash your hands regularly, maintain physical distance and get immunized when you can.
Before I close, I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Department of Health, the Bermuda Government Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory and our Educators for their dedication and commitment to ensure the safety of our school families.