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Confusion over Education Ministry’s statement stirs debates

Ministry statements on private schools entirely resuming in-person education leaves public school parents confused

The Ministry of Education building in Amman. (Photo: Petra)
The Ministry of Education building in Amman. (Photo: Petra)
AMMAN — The National Campaign for Defending Students’ Rights (Thabahtoona) recently released a statement denouncing what it said was the Ministry of Education’s exclusion of public schools from full in-class learning.اضافة اعلان

The Ministry of Education’s announcement of a “limited return to in-class education” for public schools, while private schools would be able to fully bring back classes drew questions over equality. However, the ministry said the statement was simply a “misunderstanding,” according to Ministry of Education Secretary-General Najwa Qbelat.

The ministry’s statement also stirred confusion among parents about plans for public schools.

A parent of a public school student, who spoke to Jordan News on the condition of anonymity, expressed her disappointment and said that “discrimination and bias to private schools, as I can lately see, might drive me to incur costs and return my daughter to her old private school.”

Thabahtoona’s statement, posted on Facebook on Thursday, said it strongly denounces the exclusion of public, UNRWA, and military school students from the ministry’s official decision.

The ministry’s statement, according to Thabahtoona, “entails and ensures the ministry’s adoption of hybrid learning and rotation systems,” in which students will be allowed to attend only twice or thrice a week in schools — compared to private school pupils, who will resume all classes in-person.

Thabahtoona campaign coordinator Fakher Daas told Jordan News that “we are supposed not only to return competently to in-class learning, but also to intensify and extend school hours (more) than before.”

Daas pointed to the educational loss incurred by students from all age because of online learning. “We do not enjoy the privilege to resume distance education,” he said, calling its outcomes “a resounding failure.”

He added that “since the intended blended system depends on online learning for some parts, the educational loss will be an endless loop.”  We should shoulder two responsibilities for the time being, according to Daas; “one is to compensate the previous academic loss, and the other is to prevent any further future ones.”

Technology and electronic educational platforms are supportive tools but never alternatives to the right of in-person schooling for all students, Daas noted.   

Qbelat, said in an interview with Jordan News, that she was surprized by this circulated understanding of the news.

Qbelat said that the ministry’s statement “came in a context where the minister was meeting with owners of private schools to discuss private schools’ situations and ensure adherence to specified capacity according to formal licenses — otherwise they will be fined,” she explained.

“Education this year is set to be fully in-person for all schools that fulfill health protocols. And those, from both private and public sectors, unable to abide by physical distancing will go for rotation and hybrid learning,” the ministry official said.

Increased public school population
Over the past year, many students transferred from private to public schools to deal with both the difficult economic situation in the country and the feeling that online education was not worth private school tuition. Over 130,000 students are enrolled in private schools.

Daas said that “it has been a year or at least 10 months, but the ministry did not make any decisions to accommodate for this huge number by improving its infrastructure and logistics, building or renting new buildings, and appointing adequate teaching and administrative staff.”

Qbelat highlighted that around 800 out of 4,000 schools are unable to adhere to a one-meter distance protocol, which “accounts for only 0.2” or 20 percent of schools, according to the latest numbers anticipated for formal return in September.

The ministry representative also said that the 130,000 number may change. “Numbers may increase or decrease in light of transferring movement between public and private schools, which is expected to begin on the 25th this month up until late September.”

Once the real numbers are confirmed and the transition stabilizes, Qbelat said that the ministry will consider “renting and building new buildings, turning to double or night shifts, expanding personnel, or working on other solutions and alternatives.”

“If we decide now to rent schools and appoint new public personnel, yet students return to their schools a month later, all these commitments and contracts will be a hasty, unwise decisions,” said Qbelat.

As for a compensatory program announced to make up for the academic loss, Qbelat estimated that it might allow for complete face-to-face education, given that it is not compulsory and the numbers of attendees might fall below capacity.

In all cases, Qbelat stressed that the number of registered students in the program must not exceed 25 per class. “What’s the point of a make-up program in a crowded class of 60? Students then won’t benefit,” she said.

Combating COVID-19
The campaign coordinator said that the epidemiological situation is stable, arguing that there is no tangible risk for teachers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 nor for families who will be able to get a shot without an appointment after the eid holiday.

“To facilitate the education process, the ministry partly reduced the 2sq.m. health protocol to one meter per student. So why not compensate more and make it 70cm to allow for 100 percent in-class learning for everyone,” suggested Daas.

However, Qbelat said it is not possible to loosen regulations set by the Ministry of Health to account for the current pandemic.

“While it’s public schools’ obligation to enroll all students regardless of the one-meter rule, we still need to balance between the educational and health issues through alternatives,” she said.

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