Yangchen C Rinzin

Based on the risk assessment, the health ministry has advised the government against reopening Classes Pre-Primary to VIII for the remaining academic session.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that the ministry’s decision came after several discussions with the education ministry and the parents and considering all the external factors.

The minister earlier had said that for schools to re-open, they must have adequate public health measures such as physical distancing, enough testing provisions, WASH station, proper ventilated areas, and a response team in case of an outbreak. 

“If these measures are in place, the government could go ahead with the re-opening of schools.”

Lyonpo at the press briefing yesterday said that it was analysed from all aspects: impact on children, economy, and other possible situations.

“For high schools, there is a milestone they need to achieve, so there are no options than to re-open. Otherwise, for the health ministry, we would be happy if all the schools remain close because one positive would infect all.”

Several other logistic issues also attributed to keeping lower classes shut.

“Globally, outbreaks are usually from lower-grade schools. We must learn from others too.”

Lyonpo told Kuensel that based on the risk assessment if one student from lower grade tests positive for Covid-19, the rest of the students and their parents have to be quarantined. This was because no parents would want to leave their minors alone at the quarantine.

“I wouldn’t want to leave my 8-year-old son inside the quarantine alone and small children wouldn’t be able to communicate if they develop symptoms.”

Lyonpo said that going by the teacher-student ratio it would be difficult to monitor students to follow health safety measures all time.

“All the measures are based on the learning from other countries, some of the best examples, global practices and recommendations from the experts,” Lyonpo said.

“When we talk about safety, there are two levels of safety, physical safety and safety of self, which the small children will not be able to practice diligently.”

Lyonpo said the decision is based on practical perspectives and from the disease perspectives.

Meanwhile, some of the teachers from remote schools and highlands said their schools should be allowed to teach face-to-face learning.

“It’s becoming difficult to reach out to students and continue mobile teaching since students cannot access online platforms,” a teacher said.

Few teachers also shared that those students who used to access online education through television are also deprived now that BBS broadcasts only movies. “They don’t have internet access to watch through other social media platforms.”

In such cases, the health minister agreed that they could continue teaching but the decision would be solely left to the education ministry.

“They’ve their own restriction and certain standards put in place when it comes to re-opening schools. The ministry cannot re-open a few schools and keep other schools closed.”

Earlier Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the government would have to look into re-opening of Classes PP-VIII, as almost 65 percent of teachers are De-Suups.

“We have the most important task in places like Phuentsholing where every day patrolling is important, and we keep receiving issues like shortages of De-Suup volunteers at the borders,” Lyonchhen said. “Re-opening schools would disturb that.”

Health Minister said that public ECCD centres would not be allowed to open. It is left for the private centres to decide and in case they open the safety protocols have to be implemented strictly.