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The government’s plan to keep the schools open even if there are cases of local transmission of Covid-19 will require more than following the pandemic protocols.

Many, the world over, seem to believe that there are more benefits in keeping the schools open. Educationists elsewhere are urging governments to avoid school closure at all costs; UNICEF has called on governments to prioritise the reopening of schools.

Of course we do not want our children’s education to be disrupted in any way. Many argue that there is simply no way to make up for children’s lost learning and time. Long school closure has reportedly led to high dropout rates. Last year, as schools remained closed for almost a year, the education ministry recorded more than 700 dropout cases.

But the decision to reopen schools in these difficult times comes with many risks and challenges. How do we ensure that classrooms are safe and not crowed?

We believe that the government has a clear plan in place because poor or half-baked plans could make the situation worse.

Lyonchhen has said that schools would have to be closed for a few days in case of a local transmission of Covid-19, which will allow early detection, contact tracing and testing. But “if there is a community transmission in Thimphu, there is no way we can run the schools in this locality. We have to close the schools.”

Do we have a clear rationale and detailed and responsive action plan, though? Lyonchhen said that it was not easy to have a concrete plan as to how to keep schools running in case of local transmission of the pandemic. “We must work together to keep the virus at bay so that [children’s education] is not disrupted”

We have generally been following the health protocols. We have a strong, stringent tracing and quarantine system in place. That is perhaps why we have been vastly successful in preventing community transmission of the virus.

But we must ensure that we have the necessary resources and infrastructure to protect the health and safety of children and school personnel.

WHO recommends that physical distancing, frequent hand and respiratory hygiene, age-appropriate mask use, ventilation and environmental cleaning to limit exposure. Frequent disinfection of the school environment and facilities could help to reduce the risks significantly.

Keeping the schools open is important but that will mean we, each individually, must ensure that we are not complacent. The government and the education ministry, in the meanwhile, must continue developing better, practical interventions to keep teaching-learning uninterrupted.

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