Opinion: Vaccination key to enabling education to function

Source: 1News

New Zealand Principals Federation president, Perry Rush gives his opinion on more schools opening around NZ on Wednesday.

Kids with masks on at school.

Since Covid-19 first breached our shores in 2020, our confidence as a nation has been dented.

We were fortunate to have enjoyed relative calm through most of 2021, until the Covid Delta variant reached us in August. Since then, the word normal has been redefined by the nation as uncertainty.

In education, we are accustomed to being nimble, to adapting to new ideas and new research, changing practices and adopting new technologies.

Covid has tested us, but schools have met the challenge head on.

Recent research undertaken by Associate Professor Roseanna Bourke of Massey University, found that extremely useful learning occurred across a wide range of primary and intermediate young people during the 2020 lockdown.

Children developed strength in student agency and in many cases became teachers of their own younger siblings, a useful practice which strengthens their own metacognitive capabilities. In addition, children did not fall behind in their learning as might have been predicted.

Home-learning was generally a valuable experience.

Further, class meetings and meetings with teachers occurred through online platforms and this helped to maintain the relationships between students and their teacher.

Whilst zoom technology was a helpful substitute under these extreme conditions, it was also clear that both teachers and students yearned to rekindle the teaching/learning relationship through face-to-face contact again.

Benefits accrued from the home-learning experience but there is no evidence to suggest there will be a deluge of parents now wishing to home school their children as a result.

There has always been a small percentage of parents who home school their children and their reasons for choosing this option are many and varied. No doubt that will continue, but there are no signs that numbers will blow out.

For all education workers, it is now mandated that they must be double vaccinated to work face-to-face with children. That is first to protect children who cannot yet be vaccinated.

NZPF president, Perry Rush

Those teachers/education workers who choose not to be vaccinated may find they cannot continue working in the teaching profession.

Whilst we will not know the definite numbers until later in the week, we believe it is unlikely that we will experience high rates of unvaccinated teachers or school staff.

If a school is short of teachers or other school staff, there are options which the Ministry of Education will assist schools to access. These include graduate students from teacher training institutions, local relievers, and LATs (those with limited authority to teach).

Fortunately, there was no expectation of a teacher shortage for 2022, so any gaps should be filled without too much stress.

Schools don’t shape society, they reflect it and just as in society there are vaccine-hesitant people, and a small number who will refuse to be vaccinated, schools will also have some of those people.

Under the mandatory rules, those people cannot work with children face-to-face if they have not yet had their first vaccination. We accept that because the prerogative to protect the children in our schools overrides the individual choice of the unvaccinated.

We stand on the cusp of Covid circulating more widely in our communities.

Key to enabling education to function in such an environment is not more remote schooling or home schooling but vaccination to enable schooling in-situ to occur uninterrupted.

On Wednesday, students from Year 0 through to Year 8 can go back to face to face learning part time.