Country to be divided into low, medium and high risk areas according to which different strategies will be used whenever schools reopen
The Ministry of Education (MoE) will follow the instruction and direction from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chaired by the Prime Minister on whether to reopen schools in Bhutan or not.
The MoE made a presentation of its recommendations to the NDMA on Thursday in case a decision is taken to open schools.
As per the MoE high schools, especially Class 10 and 12, should get priority in opening in the first phase following the Ministry of Health (MoH) protocol. This is because Class 10 and 12 students have to appear for the board exams.
The Education Minister Lyonpo Jai Bir Rai said that the ministry in its presentation to the NDMA put forth the idea of dividing parts of the country into low risk zones which are sparsely populated like rural areas, medium risk zones like sparsely populated Dzongkhags and high risk zones like densely populated places like Thimphu or even areas along the southern border.
The idea being that in low risk zones there could be an opening with MoH protocols and social distancing and in medium risk zones there could be school reopening with even stricter protocols and classes of 30 being made into 15 in batches and strict social distancing. In the high risk zones, the proposal is if only certain classes from 7 to 12 are opened with no school for small kids. These are, however, just proposals and and yet to be accepted by the NDMA.
MoE feels there are less chances of community transmission in remote place, and it is manageable to control any spread of the disease. The ministry is still working on whether to reopen the primary classes or not in the rural parts.
Lyonpo said a prioritized curriculum and assessment are to be implemented in schools instead of conventional school curriculum and assessment. It is unlikely that the schools located in the risky areas, especially in the border areas, will be opened.
Lyonpo said in such cases, e-Learning is best suited for the students. The assessment will be done as per the adaptive curriculum at the end of the academic year. However, NDMA will direct the ministry on which schools in the country should be reopened.
All the students will have to follow hand washing programs, maintain social distance, and use hand sanitizers once the schools start. Security guards are to be deployed in the entry and exit points of the school gates so that no one can enter the school compound other than the students and teachers.
Education Minister JB Rai said the ministry has planned to reopen high schools first because students in higher classes will be able to follow the new school protocol and are easier to manage as well.
Lyonpo expressed that there are mixed emotions among the public. Parents in the rural parts of the country have requested for school reopening, while most parents in the urban areas are not ready to take risks by reopening schools.
“The risk of spreading the virus is very high. If suppose one child is infected with the virus then most likely 100 to 200 students will be infected in a day. Because of this, the education ministry and NDMA are exploring various options to reopen schools. Schools in border areas to remain closed and rest can be reopened but the risk is everywhere. The ministry has submitted the plans, health ministry and NDMA will discuss and direct them since the ministry alone cannot take any decision,” said Lyonpo.
Lyonpo said it would be good for both the teachers and students if the schools reopen in June. It has not been decided as it all depends on the epidemiological evidence. But there is no doubt that the schools will reopen at some point, Lyonpo added.
MoE will continue with e-Learning until the schools reopen or till the ministry receives the order from NDMA.
Meanwhile, MoE is prepared with its COVID-19 response related activities. The ministry has completed the Phase II in Education in Emergency (EIE), which has plans to reopen schools and universities, and submitted it to the government.
According to the risk analysis done by health ministry, all the schools and universities in the country is ready with hand washing program, hostels have been repaired and necessary requirements are made, if the educational institutions reopen soon.
The Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that various options are being looked at and a decision will be taken on the matter in the NDMA.