The government has yet to decide on whether to reopen schools or keep them closed for sometime but the decision is expected to come soon within the next two weeks. The decision will take into account the COVID-19 epidemiology status in the country. Although the results of random tests are negative, but the country is being very careful and is in a preventative mode.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said the government might need a little time to study the COVID-19 scenario as it differs from country to country. He said going by the standards in some countries, schools should not have been closed and there are even some countries with local transmission that are opening schools.
The Prime Minister (PM) said the government would have taken a decision by now on whether to reopen the schools or not, but then the lockdown in India continued for two more weeks. If India’s lockdown ended by 3 May, the government would have studied the situation across the border very clearly.
PM expressed his concern over the schools being shut down for around two months and more, as students and teachers are losing out formal classroom lessons. It also bears a huge impact on the economy, the PM added.
As for the e-Learning platform, PM said the government has not formalized e-Learning as formal learning because such e-lessons can be effective if students can study using desktops and laptops. Around 30,000 to 40,000 students do not have access to smartphones and other gadgets.
“If the schools had enough IT labs, by now the ministry would have rotated students through computer labs to come and do assignments in a small groups of two to three,” PM said.
He said one can go through the educational clips for 10 to 15 minutes, and after that duration, it becomes unhealthy.
“How can the students have three to four hours of assignment over a phone?” the PM asked.
However, the PM thanked the teachers for their hard work in initiating e-Learning on BBS and through WhatsApp, WeChat, etc.
PM said the government is planning on giving electronic learning tablets after working out the cost factor. It was delayed due to the uncertainty over reopening schools.
As ICT will be given importance in schools after the digitalization of all the curriculum system and textbooks, therefore, there should be at least a minimum number of tablets in schools. The government is also working on helping parents who want to buy gadgets for their children at an affordable price.
PM also said since online education is not yet formalized, therefore, the students will never be assessed through the online system.
“There will be no assessment done on the literature given through e-Learning platform. Students are assessed on what is being delivered. Some students around the world are assessed based on last year’s performances,” PM added.
PM said half yearly exams could be delayed or even cancelled. COVID-19 has affected the major 12th Five Year plans and activities as well. Parents, teachers and students are worried because of the delay affecting the normal school curriculum.
Meanwhile, the government has asked the Education Ministry to explore other options, like doing away with the three months break during the summer and winter months including government holidays. The government will also request the teachers to teach students on the weekends if need be.
When the schools reopen, it is expected that schools in the peripheries and boarding schools will be easier to manage than the other schools. Priorities will be given to the students taking the common exams because they require more attention.
According to Lyonchhen, Class Xll students are important because they will be in college next year, and Class X students will have to choose different academic fields. They will be given priority.
Meanwhile, many college students hope that their colleges will open soon. They said although reopening of the colleges would be challenging for the government, however, it is possible as there is no community transmission of COVID-19 in Bhutan.
They pointed out that the online classes are challenging, as it is hard to understand the lessons delivered due to Internet connection fluctuation and disturbances around the environment.
“Learning environment isn’t conducive at our own place. We are very worried about the exams too,” said a college student.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said although there is no community transmission, however, we cannot be 100 percent sure that there is no risk in the future. The Health Ministry has completed a risk assessment exercise and come up with risk modification strategies. Currently, the government’s main focus is on stopping the possibility of community transmission of COVID-19.
The government is considering reopening schools, however, some prerequisites must be met prior to reopening to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It is not just the schools that need to be reopened, institutions, government offices, corporations and businesses do too. The issue under discussion needs higher-level consultation and also consultation beyond health according to MoH.