In a month’s time from now, the lone school in Lunana will close. The harsh weather means the academic session is shorter even during the normal times with schools winding up by November.
It has been worse this year.
Some students of the remote gewog have not seen their teachers or classrooms. Schools were closed following the first Covid-19 positive case in early March, a few days after the 2020 academic session started. The Lunana Primary School had not opened as they start the academic session in April.
For the 40 students of the school, it is a year lost even if they are promoted to the next class. Unlike other schools, alternate methods of learning did not help. If access to internet and mobile phones were difficult, teachers could not guide the children in using the self-instructional materials. They couldn’t reach most of the students.
But the school authority was determined. Knowing that they are isolated and in the safety of the mountain ranges where the only visitors, curious tourists, are restricted this year, they requested the authorities to keep the school open. The teachers were willing to teach, students were eager to learn and dzongkhag authority was ready to help. The proposal to keep schools open was shot down by the ministry.
The reason was that other schools in the highlands would want to open. The request from the teachers makes sense. There were 300 confirmed Covid-19 positive cases in the country as of yesterday, most of them are detected in the safety of luxurious hotels.
Only five dzongkhags have reported positive cases, three of them are in the southern foothills.
Given our timely and strict prevention measures, most of the dzongkhags have not reported a single case. Our communities in the mountains are the safest place to be during the pandemic. The request could have been granted for many reasons. The academic session is short, there are not many students and the risk of Covid-19 is the minimum.
If this is not convincing, children in the remote places or from economically-deprived communities will bear the brunt of the pandemic when normalcy returns and the students move on to higher classes. The online education, even if educators are sincere, is not benefitting all. Some are deprived for many reasons. The SIM too needs teachers to guide students.
If all the schools in the highlands want to start classes for at least a month to make up for the lost time, we should let them do so with proper Covid-19 protocols. Without new cases of local transmission, schools for Classes IX to XII have opened. In Thimphu, students are taking tuitions. Some are urging private schools to start classes in a staggered manner. Some private schools already started calling students in controlled measures to schools.
Teachers know the value of education in early classes. It is where they lay the foundation and learn many other things beyond the textbooks or the curriculum. Our preventive measures have paid off. There is no harm in letting students go to school if the risk is minimum.
What would we tell the Lunana students or teachers when they come to Thimphu and see us play archery, football, or are having large gatherings, crowded streets, shops and malls besides?