Safety protocols in place to reopen schools: MoE

More than Nu 12M spent on education in emergency 

Yangchen C Rinzin

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, schools are set to reopen from February next year for pre-primary to class VIII and classes IX to XII would reopen from April 1.

Classes for lower classes would reopen in winter, where increasing studies are now showing a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases worldwide, as the weather changes. Studies also show that flu-like symptoms, infection rate and spread of Covid-19 could increase during the winter.

Education minister, Jai Bir Rai, however, said the ministry is prepared to reopen schools in terms of all health protocols.

“Although schools may reopen in winter, there wouldn’t be a nationwide lockdown even if there is local transmission or lockdown,” he said. “With the government strategising on the smart lockdown like region-wise, it may not be harmful to reopen schools.”

He said that the ministry is confident that if there is a lockdown in one dzongkhag, schools in other regions would not be closed. “Following several discussion and consultations, it was decided to reopen schools from February although the national Covid-19 taskforce advised reopening schools from January.”

The minister said that they sought several consultations from experts and based on curriculum and cognitive level, it was advised to reopen schools. “Except for the southern region, most places would be cold and not many schools are equipped with heating facilities. So we decided to reopen schools in February.”

Apart from wearing a facemask and maintaining physical distance, one of the conditions the government has set to reopen schools is access to hand washing basins. Schools with many students would be allowed to conduct classes in shift manner or schools can come up with their own options to avoid large gathering in class.

Education ministry’s health and nutrition division chief programme officer, Karma Wangchuk, said that in terms of physical preparedness, the number of handwashing tap-points in schools has increased by 77 percent following Covid-19 pandemic.

From 9,654 handwashing tap points before the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, the number has today increased to 17,071 tap points including in toilets, according to records maintained with the education ministry.

“This means that at the national level, from one tap point for every 17 students, the access has improved to one tap point for every nine students. We’ve ensured that it’s functional and have access to regular water supply,” Karma Wangchuk said.

Although the cost incurred for handwashing basins were not available for 2020-2021 fiscal year, the record showed that finance ministry allocated Nu 73.84M for 2019-2020 fiscal year by re-appropriating budget for dzongkhags after Covid-19 situation.

With schools closed since March, the ministry had initiated education in emergency and spent overall Nu 12.3M on video lesson development and self-instructional materials (SIM) to engage students. More than Nu 1.3M was spent on radio lessons and re-airing lessons while about Nu 6.9M was spent on video lessons.

More than Nu 1M was spent on printing and distribution of SIM and Nu 200,000 for logistic for SIM. A total of 132,000 was also spent on TADA for teachers involved in the development of SIM and about Nu 1.3M on TADA for teachers and officials involved in the development of video lessons.

The ministry also spent more than Nu 1M on teachers’ and officials’ logistic involved in the development of video lessons, and Nu 376,512 for stationaries required for the development of video lessons.

However, students of Thinleygang and Wangdue Primary School, Shengana and Dorokha Lower Secondary School, and Khuruthang Middle Secondary School will reopen on April 1. These schools are currently hosting students from Phuentsholing thromde after students were relocated.

The expenses pertaining to the relocation of Phuentsholing students have not been approved and released as of date, although it is endorsed in the finance committee meeting and is waiting for approval from the finance ministry, according to an official from the department of budget.

Officiating director-general, Kinley Gyeltshen, said that education ministry is still working on cost estimation and other initiatives, as works are still in progress in some places.

“With sudden decisions and initiatives taken as Covid-19 response, there are several complex expenditures we still need to work out,” he said. “We had to construct new washing facilities or renovate toilets and supply pots, including staff quarter for teachers to host Phuentsholing students.”

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