Educating children while living with COVID-19 may require we color outside the lines

LEARNING: Students at Untalan Middle School follow three feet distance from each other during face to face learning on Oct. 11. Dontana Keraskes/The Guam Daily Post

The Department of Education and the Guam Education Board are trying to find ways to address the lack of instructional time in public schools as the COVID-19 pandemic interrupts a third school year.

That’s a tall order as we continue to struggle to balance safety with education - and it requires the entire community’s efforts, to include elected officials.

“Our goal is really to find a way to get back to five days of instruction as soon as possible, potentially looking at double sessions with cohorts. Keep in mind, I want to be clear when these things are in discussion it has not been decided. We are really going to bring it to stakeholders and talk to you guys about it,” Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Joseph Sanchez said at a recent meeting.

Okkodo High School Senior Darryl Mercada voiced concerns at that meeting about the impacts the reduction in instructional hours has had on seniors eyeing graduation.

How about those who are trying to get into college or the work force?

What happened to those who graduated this past two school years, where months of education were lost?

By our own definition of what makes an adequate education, our children have been short changed - and not because teachers and administrators aren’t trying - but because we have a pandemic wreaking havoc.

Guam law requires 180 instructional days each school year - that’s the norm across the nation with a few states going slightly over or under. According to the National Center for Education Statistics 2018 report, most states require 180 days of instruction; Minnesota requires 165 and in Kentucky 170 days while North Carolina is at 185.

Since school year 2019-2020, students haven’t had 180 days of instruction.

And no one knows how much longer this is going to last, especially as this coronavirus mutates to create new variants that seem eager to make us all sick or worse.

Perhaps, in the middle of this public health emergency that is creating a learning crisis for Guam’s students, this is a time for Guam to rethink our education system.

We have an opportunity to reimagine a system that could improve what we have in a way that finally has our students matching up or even exceeding their peers at all grade levels in both English and math - something that our school system has struggled with for many years.

A Business Insider report in 2018, the U.S. ranked 38th in math scores and 24th in science. A Pew Research Center article noted that the Programme for International Student Assessment placed the U.S. at 38 out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science in 2015. Among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which sponsors the PISA initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science.

PISA measures reading ability, math and science literacy and other key skills among 15-year-olds in dozens of developed and developing countries every three years.

Is it wishful thinking? Not if we want our children to believe they can achieve anything and we’re willing to provide them with the tools necessary to do it.

However high we want to aim, the issue of ensuring our children - and next generation of doctors, nurses, teachers, scientists, engineers - receive the education they need will require support from elected officials.

GDOE officials have started discussion on what can be done, including extending the school year, adding more after-school programs, and creating other programs that support education.

They’ve invited the Guam Federation of Teachers and the community into that discussion.

Elected officials at the Legislature and Adelup should also participate since some of the changes we may be forced to make because of COVID-19 will need support from other agencies, such as Department of Public Works, which handles busing for schools.

And if we dare to imagine more for our children, we're going to have to color outside the lines. Imagining the best for our children may require changes in our laws - of how we currently define adequate education - and how we prioritize education in our annual budget.  

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