Easter break is finished - and many school children have returned to regular, in-class, face-to-face instruction.

At the beginning of April, the Education Ministry announced that - with almost all public health mandates relaxed - they are giving the green light for all schools countrywide to return to face-to-face learning. Mask wearing has been relaxed, but students, teachers, and the school staff members should still practice indoor mask-wearing, hand washing, sanitization, and monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms.

The Ministry is allowing schools the grace period of the rest of the current academic year to transition back to in-class instruction. But, all schools will be expected to return to pre-pandemic schedules for the 2022-2023 academic year. Here's what the Minister had to say about that gradual transition back to the classroom after 2 years of distance learning - where there was much learning loss:

Hon. Francis Fonseca - Minister of Education

"You know, we feel very good about the return to the classroom. What we had said was that the full return to the classroom would take place in August, for the new school year. But, of course, as you all know, we've said it ad nauseum. We've greenlighted - over 90% of our schools have been greenlighted to return for a face to face instruction in some form. It's still hybrid education, but it's been going very, very well. I can tell you it's been going very well. Just this morning I was at St Martin's Primary School on the south side of Belize City, visiting with the principal and teachers. And I had an opportunity to visit some of the students in their classrooms and they were telling me, I mean, the students were so excited about being back in the classroom. The challenge we have, now, two primary challenges. One, of course, is making sure that all those students who have not returned to the school, that we find them, that we engage with them and their families, and we get them back into the classroom. So, we're - I would that it varies from district to district. But I'm not satisfied that, you know, where we are ye with that. In some communities, there's still around 60% returning to the classroom. In other areas, it's up. In the north, for example, it's over 80%, or so. We have a lot of work to do in that regard, making sure that everybody feels safe and people understand and appreciate the importance and the urgency of getting their children back into the classroom. And then, of course, the second big issue is how we recover those lost years of learning. Our students have been effectively out of the classroom for two years. And so, we have specific plans aimed at addressing those gaps that have been created over the last two years."

When Will Friday Classes Resume?

But, if schools are truly to return to their pre-pandemic schedules, Friday classes will also have to return. As you'll know, the workweek was shortened for teachers and public officers as a compromise between the government and the Joint Unions. That happened when the Briceno Administration convinced them to accept the very painful 10% salary cut.

According to the Education Minister, Friday classes will return in the upcoming school year:

Daniel Ortiz

"What's happening with Friday classes? Is that going to return as per normal?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca

"Absolutely. Absolutely, we will return to Friday classes in August, the new school year. As you know, Friday, was part of the agreement with the unions in terms of, you know, the salary adjustment. That, as you know, will be addressed in July. July 1st, that salary will be restored. And so come the new school year, August, we will return to a full five-day school week."

The Timeline For the 10% Restoration

Earlier on we introduced out interview with Minister of Education Francis Fonseca. He discussed the return of school on Friday - but implicit in that conversation is restoring that 10% cut in the wages for teachers and public officers.

So, we asked about the timeline for the full restoration of the pay for teachers and public officers:

Hon. Francis Fonseca - Member, GOB's Negotiating Team

"Again, we have had very positive, good-faith discussions with the joint unions from the very beginning. I've always said, I've always made it a point to put on record our gratitude to the joint unions for the mature manner in which they have engaged in those discussions with us. It's a very - there were painful decisions, you know, and so since that announcement, I can tell you that they obviously welcome that decision. They are happy to have the 10% returned. Obviously, they never wanted it to happen. And so, they welcome that. But obviously, they want us to continue working together on other serious challenges. That is facing the country. So we are going to work is not done. Our discussions and consultations with the joint unions will continue. We have a lot of work to do on constitutional reform, and governance reform. We have other issues that we have to discuss, the collective bargaining agreement that exists that there are still some points on hold in respect to that. So there are lots of things that we are committed to working on together, but obviously, they are very happy about the fact that we have been able to return the 10% two years early, because as you know, in the consultations, we told them it would be for three years. It was only for one year. And we were glad about that."

Making The School Curriculum Simpler For Your Child

And while teachers may get back their full pay - there's no easy way for students to get back their full education after all the learning loss of the past two years.

Tonight, the Education Ministry says that it has a plan to address those gaps. At the same time, the ministry's technocrats are working with stakeholders - including the teachers - to come up with a full curriculum reform agenda.

The Minister and his team think that now is the time to take an honest look at the education agenda to improve in the areas that have caused the school system to fail students.

Here's how he put it:

Hon. Francis Fonseca - Member, GOB's Negotiating Team

"We're going to have a full briefing on the curriculum. You know, we're still engaged in some consultations but again, I think we're looking at fundamental reform. You know, the curriculum is absolutely overloaded. It's absolutely overloaded. And we intend to reduce what they call learning outcomes - I've talked about this already - and make sure that our students are learning what matters. It's critical. we can't be in a country like Belize - we can't lose sight of the fact that education has to be tied to national development. You know, it has to be tied to economic development, to the national development of our country. So we have to be educating our people to be a part of growing Belize, developing Belize, and equipping them with the skill, the knowledge, information, the values, and the attitudes they need to be effective participants in the development of Belize. So we have to have a much more focused and targeted curriculum. And that's going to be the objective. And Belizeans, I think, will embrace the curriculum when we unveil it in a few weeks' time."

Channel 7