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GSD calls for details on remote teaching contingencies

Johnny Bugeja

The GSD said the Gibraltar Government must provide details of how it plans to remotely deliver a structured curriculum to students in the event that they are required to self-isolate, or if there is a second lockdown.

The Opposition was reacting following the publication of guidance for the reopening of schools this week.

The Department of Education plans two distinct phases, including a "post lockdown curriculum" designed to re-establish a 'secure base’, followed by a return to teaching the National Curriculum in a "recovery curriculum".

The Department of Education has said that further information and guidance on the two phases and contingency planning in the event of a lockdown will be provided in a separate guidance document.

But the GSD said that there is no substantive detail provided to explain either of the two phases outlined so far, or any mention of how classes would be delivered remotely in the event that became necessary.

The GSD said more work needed to be done and information disseminated to ensure that parents were confident that preparations had been sufficiently advanced for the curriculum to be fully delivered within the upcoming academic year.

"The Government has had enough time to prepare for the roll out of the National Curriculum in the context of this current pandemic and the return of thousands of children to our schools,” said the GSD’s education spokesman Edwin Reyes.

“Our children require the rigour and routine of educational setups and routines, whether that is delivered in a traditional classroom setting or using technology in an advanced remote and virtual manner.”

“There is no mention of remote and/or virtual teaching in the current guidance document in relation to those pupils who may, for a myriad of different reasons, be self-isolating or shielding and this needs to be clarified immediately as schools are set to reopen this week.”

“Every child is different and there will be situations which may need to be tailored to individual circumstances, but the priority must be focused upon ensuring that our children catch up with their studies and that the National Curriculum alongside preparations for public exams are delivered as safely and efficiently as possible.”

The GSD also raised the use of masks in corridors and common areas in schools, although the party’s concerns have to some extent been superseded by events.

The guidance published on Thursday last week stated explicitly that children did not have to wear masks in school, a position that had also been set out earlier by Dr Sohail Bhatti, the Director of Public Health.

That remains the case and masks remain optional.

However, on Friday, Education Minister Dr John Cortes said pupils and staff would be urged to wear masks in school common areas and corridors.

“The position now is that we strongly recommend that children over the age of 11 and teachers should wear masks in common areas like corridors and so on,” Dr Cortes said.

“That is our recommendation, which is in keeping with the [guidance of] the World Health Organisation.”

The GSD noted that not making mask use mandatory in schools was at odds with steps being taken in England and Scotland, which had adopted World Health Organisation guidance and would implement mask use in corridors and shared areas.

It also pointed out that the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, had made statements on this issue that seemed at odds with the position expressed by Dr Bhatti.

Mr Picardo had said the issue of masks in schools would be dealt with in a way appropriate to each age and in keeping with public health advice and the advice being received in the UK, adding that “different schools may have different approaches”.

"The Chief Minister needs to understand and appreciate that when Dr Bhatti says one thing and he, as Chief Minister, says something different, then consequently people genuinely lose confidence in the public health advice being received,” said GSD MP Elliott Phillips.  

“The Government must either stand by the Director of Public Health's advice on face coverings in schools or say that they disagree with his view in line with WHO recommendations and the measures adopted in England and Scotland.”

“People will understand there will be evolving advice during the pandemic, but they rightly will not tolerate mixed and confusing messaging at a critical time when our children are imminently returning to school.”