Photo: UNICEF Bhutan

Schools in the country to reopen in a staggered manner in the face of growing infections

As the schools nationwide reopen on Monday, 4 April 2022, many teachers are hopeful that they can continue with the contact teaching as planned, despite the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the country.

The Ministry of Education (MoE) has directed all the schools in classes VII, VIII, IX, X and XII to reopen for the academic year 2022 on 4 April. Classes PP-VI will reopen on 18 April for the vaccinated students, and unvaccinated students are to report on 28 April. ECCDs will reopen on 28 April.

The Principal of Changzamtog Middle Secondary School (CMSS), Sonam Phuntsho, said that the school aims to avoid crowding, and so the admission is to be done in a staggered manner.

The Principal said the school is prepared to start the year even with the high chances of getting infected, going by the rate of infection in Thimphu. He said some of the teachers are already infected, and therefore, they are working from home, in order to avoid mass infection in the school campus.

The school has also decided not to bring in the children who have not taken the second jab or the booster dose. He said there are some adults who have not taken the second and booster dose.

“It will be a big challenge, and we are hoping that we will do it. Otherwise, from a logistic point of view, we are all ready to reopen. More or less, we are mentally prepared even if we get infected, we will follow the norms very strictly. Health should be given the first priority,” said the Principal Sonam Phuntsho.

The school is looking forward to providing contact teaching, and if mass infection happens in the school, they will resort to online classes, although there will be challenges in providing online classes as it is not effective to teach students without gadgets.

The Principal said due to successive lockdowns in the country, they are worried about the students in the low-income group, especially in CMSS, as they cater numerous students who fall in low-income group, the Principal said.

The Principal of Samtse High School, Tshueltrim Dorji, said it is a good decision that the government took to reopen schools, without further delay. He said it is better to reopen and start the normal classes.

He pointed out Samtse HS is a day school and there will not be much challenges.

“Having all the students receive booster shots will help them to keep themselves protected from severity. However, if the situation deteriorates then we will plan accordingly. And if any students test positive, we will ask them to do home quarantine and after their recovery they can join their normal classes,” said the Principal.

Principal of Mongar Higher Secondary School, Kinga Rinchen, said the gravity of the Omicron infection is difficult to predict so it will all depend, and they are hoping for the best.

The Principal said for two years, the country has been fighting with the virus and there is no further room to have new rules. Schools are more at risk than any other agencies, said the Principal.

Similarly, Principal of Gelephu High School, Shambay Dawa, said the school is prepared for the normal classes, and they too will follow the MoE’s directives to manage the situation.

Meanwhile, MoE has issued a notification that the school management should monitor the situation very closely, and any students with flu-like symptoms should be discouraged from attending school if they are day scholars, and should be kept in separate rooms if they are boarders.

School management should ensure that health focal teachers monitor the students with underlying health conditions very closely. Health conditions of these students should be reported regularly to the Chief Program Officer of School Health and Nutrition Division (SHND), who will in turn update the National COVID-19 Taskforce on a daily basis.

It may also be noted that due to frequent lockdowns and change in reopening dates of the schools, students may not have procured the school uniforms and other essentials including stationeries. The shops selling school uniforms and stationeries may not have adequate stock to meet the demand for these items. Therefore, the school authorities are required to relax the use of school uniforms and other essentials until the students and their parents are able to arrange them.

All the schools should continue to strictly follow COVID-19 safety protocols and SOPs developed by the schools, particularly that of wearing masks and washing hands regularly. Technical guidelines will be developed by the Technical Advisory Group (TAG), Ministry of Health after assessing the situation of Classes VII, VIII, IX, X and XII after they reopen and circulate them to the schools.

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