Yangchen C Rinzin 

Schools are likely to reopen in a phased manner beginning next month going by a notification the education ministry issued to all dzongdags and thrompons yesterday.

The notification cited directives from the Prime Minister’s Office to prepare re-opening of schools in a phased manner from June.

The notification  stated that the most important conditions to be met, as stressed by the prime minister is mandatory provisions for enough drinking water and handwashing stations in schools as preparedness to combat the risk of Covid-19 pandemic.

The ministry has instructed all dzongkhags and thromdes to initiate supply of piped water or create storage facilities, and also install handwashing stations as per the number of students and teachers in the schools before the end of this month.

“Since the work has to be carried out immediately on a priority basis, Prime Minister has asked the ministry to use the stipend saved from March to May,” the notification stated.

The ministry asked dzongkhag administrations and thromdes to reappropriate the stipend and use it to ensure the supply of water and installation of the handwashing stations.  

If funds available with the dzongkhags and thromdes are insufficient, the ministry would provide additional funding.      

“As we are concerned with the education of our children, we have to equally take care of their health and wellbeing.  Therefore, in view of the urgency and critical nature of the work, we would like to ask dzongkhags and thromdes to carry out the work at the earliest so that schools can be reopened safely as and when the government decides on the dates,” the notification from the ministry stated.

However, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering yesterday evening said that the government was considering several options before re-opening the schools. “There is no concrete plan when to reopen the educational institutions.”

Lyonchhen said that the government will have to study the situation like the lockdown in India that is still on till May 17, and the Covid-19 scenario given the increasing cases in the country.

“We’re studying the scenario and see how the situation unfolds for a week or two,” Lyonchhen said. “We should have some plan or decision by next month.”

Lyonchhen said that education ministry was directed to ensure that water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities are in place before schools reopen.

“We’ve to open the schools, the only question is when? The ministry should be ready, as schools might open anytime.”

In an earlier interview, Lyonchhen told Kuensel that if the situation improves both globally and locally, the government might start opening schools region-wise.

“Maybe, we can slowly re-open schools in remote places first,” Lyonchhen said. “There is nothing to be confused.”

Education minister JB Rai said that although it is still unsure when schools would re-open, the ministry is prepared with WASH in all the schools.

Lyonpo said that there are about 38 schools that do not have WASH. The ministry is already working on it to ensure it is put in place by May.

“We’re also reprioritising the stipend and utilise the WASH,” Lyonpo said. “We’re readying for schools to reopen.”

Clarifying the notification sent to dzongkhags and thromdes from the ministry, Lyonpo said that it was only to prepare for WASH and it does not mean schools will reopen from June.

“We’ll have to wait for the government’s directives.”

Additional reporting by  Tshering Palden