Schools brace for potential closure

The President of the Secondary School Principals Association, Siakisone Taleni, says his greatest fear is yet another interruption to his students’ education if schools are forced to close due to the threat of coronavirus.

Mr. Taleni, who is the Principal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints College at Pesega, said the Principal’s Association has yet to meet on revelations that schools may have to close, but he is preparing his own institute’s response in advance.

This week, the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio, told the Samoa Observer that he will have no other choice but to close schools and suspend sporting activities when the COVID-19 pandemic reaches Samoa.

“That is my biggest fear right now,” Mr. Taleni said of the pandemic arrival. After the measles epidemic in 2019 resulted in half of Term 4 being cancelled, and cyclone season in February claimed two weeks of class, children are at risk of dropping behind.

“We are trying to make up for the days we missed for bad weather, and now I am afraid that if we close school again then that will have a great impact on student learning, student achievement and on us achieving our goals as a department.

“Let’s not forget students have their own aspirations and their own dreams and their own goals in life and for this school year.”

But should the need for self-isolation and a stop to large gatherings occur, Pesega College students will be expected to learn online.

Students, teachers and parents use online service Power School to access course materials, grades and communicate with each other, so a readymade infrastructure exists for those with the internet access to use it. 

Unfortunately for many, internet and computer access at home is not guaranteed, Mr. Taleni said, and it’s something the school needs to tackle to ensure children don’t get left behind. 

For those who do have internet access and a laptop or computer at home, switching to online learning will be a big shift that could be an opportunity for students to become more active learners.

“A lot of our students are used to that traditional classroom setting where they listen, take notes, and are passive learners,” Mr. Taleni said. 

“So something positive might come out of this, if this happens. It will encourage students to learn in their own way, to discover self-learning, and it will take them time to get used to that culture.”

He said thankfully the college parent body is already a fairly active one, where parents are engaged in their children’s education and pay attention to school activities and grades, but potentially more work will need to happen to ensure parents help their kids learn from home.

“A lot of parents give us feedback on their children’s learning and are communicating with us and their children’s teachers online through Power School but yes, it involves coordinating learning with their parents,” Mr. Taleni said. 

“Not every parent has access to internet so we’ll make plans but it’s not yet communicated to teachers, students and parents.” It was too early for Mr. Taleni to expand further on the plan, but he said the idea is for students to keep up with their studies throughout any closure.

As President of the Secondary Schools Principals Association, Mr. Taleni does not have authority to tell any school how to handle school closures, and with a wide spectrum of infrastructure capacity across Samoa, schools will have to decide for themselves how they keep their student learning up.

“We can share what we do but I doubt many have the resources we have,” he acknowledged.

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