A year in the education sector amid COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the educational institutions severely since March 2020 with the first positive case reported in the country. The pandemic has forced teachers and students to adjust to a new curriculum and online teaching and learning. The schools had to remain closed during the two national lockdowns.

PP to class VIII remained closed for the 2020 academic year but online teaching and learning took place, and rest of the classes reopened in a phase wise manner with strict COVID-19 safety protocols in place.

Schools in Phuentsholing could not resume normal classes due to continuous detection of positive cases. Classes from PP to VII resorted to online teaching and learning, and classes IX to XII were relocated to Phaduna in Punakha.

Although the education ministry worried about providing an interrupted education to the students, somehow students, teachers and parents coped with the new learning system or e-Learning. However, the ministry witnessed the dropout cases, especially in class X and XII in 2020.

As per the education ministry, 210 students dropped out of school in 2020, but they say these students will be continuing their studies in the 2021 academic year except for a few students. There were 96 drop out students in class XII and 114 students in class X.

Some of the reasons stated by the education ministry were that the students might not have scored good marks, or they were not confident to continue with their studies, and some dropped out because of their parents’ concern over the COVID-19 situation.

During the mid-examinations, 46 percent of students scored less than 40 percent. This result was due to the fact that in 2020, the students had to take up online classes and another reason was with the introduction of Continuous Assessment System (CA).

Principals and teachers expressed that the new CA system will segregate those performing students from the non-performing students, and that both teachers and the students have to put in more effort.

As part of the Digital Flagship Program, the education ministry also developed the Learning Management System (LMS), to provide uninterrupted education during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the system is also intended to benefit the school and students. It is a web-based device independent system that will facilitate learning, anywhere, anytime.

Students from many schools tested positive for COVID-19 in January 2021, and the counseling division under ministry of education provided them with psychosocial support services on a daily basis.

The education ministry also provided monetary help to needy students in Thimphu by supporting them with Nu 2,500 to Nu 250 to buy school uniforms or school stationeries in 2021. Apart from monetary support, female students in class IV and above were provided free sanitary pads.

When the Delta variant was detected, the students were the top concern, as a large number of the population in the country are students. Therefore, the education ministry ensured that all the students 12 and above received the COVID-19 vaccines.

The country rolled out the Moderna vaccine for children between 12 to 17 years in July 2021, and children living in the nine high-risk districts including Thimphu and Paro were vaccinated. About 70,000 school-going children and others were vaccinated in 2021.

Meanwhile, with the Omicron variant spreading around the globe, the education ministry aims to ensure that there will be no interruption in providing the basic education to the students, as the ministry has learned from the past.

They have enhanced safety protocols in all the schools, and now that the teachers and students are much more comfortable with the online classes, the ministry hopes that if there are any national lockdowns in future, the schools and students should not suffer.

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