Government plan to resume schools must be backed by safety measures, say guardian and expertsNo harm in trying to get back to normal, but plans should be backed by proper safety measures, experts say.
Covid-19 Crisis Management Committee, Humla, decided to shut down all schools, which had resumed around a month ago, from Thursday. It has also banned all activities that cause crowding.
The decision to shut down schools, both public and private, was taken two weeks after the federal government endorsed a guideline paving the way for the resumption of schools.
Chiranjibi Giri, chief district officer, said they had to close the schools after detecting 52 new cases of Covid-19 in two days. “It is risky to operate schools when there are active cases,” he told the Post. “We decided to ask all seven local governments to shut down the schools until further notice.”
Around eight months after deciding to close all the schools across the country, the Cabinet on November 5 endorsed the School Resumption Working Guideline, which allows the resumption of schools provided that they coordinate with representatives of the local government, teachers unions and representatives from the school management committee concerned.
The guideline, however, hasn’t been accepted by representatives of the guardians’ association. They have accused the government of trying to resume schools without taking proper precautions. They claim that the government, which decided to shut down schools when there were merely a couple of dozen cases, is ready to resume schools when more than 1,000 cases are added every day.
Suprabhat Bhandari, chairperson of Guardian’s Federation Nepal, said they aren’t against the idea of resuming schools, but the way the government is taking the decision on an ad hoc basis is objectionable. “The decision allows resumption of the schools when there are no visible threats from the pandemic,” he told the Post. “It is a paradox that some of the districts like Humla have been compelled to resort to a shut down after the guideline was endorsed.”
He said that before deciding to resume schools, there should be clarity on how safety protocols are to be enforced and who will bear the cost for disinfection and ensure availability of masks, sanitizers and water to wash hands. Bhandari said there are hundreds of schools across the country that don’t have access to even water for drinking. “The guardians are most concerned about the study of their children, but they are equally worried about their safety,” he said. “We would like to see the federal government allocate an adequate budget to deploy health workers in each school and manage necessary safety kits.”
The federal and provincial governments have announced the deployment of a nurse at each public school. Experts say this is the right time for the respective governments to implement this decision.
The guideline says its main objective is to clear the way to reopen schools that have remained closed due to the threat of the Covid-19 or because they were converted into quarantine or isolation centres.
The guideline makes it mandatory for all schools to follow safety guidelines prescribed by the government. As per the guidelines, local governments are responsible for providing masks to students who come from poor families. It, however, doesn’t talk about deploying health staffers as demanded by guardians and experts.
Talking to the Post last week, Deepak Sharma, spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, said schools will resume in areas where the threat of the pandemic is relatively less severe. In areas where the risk of transmission is high, virtual learning can continue. Education experts say the government must guarantee the safety of students when it decides to let schools resume.
“Virtual learning hasn’t been effective, therefore, there seems to be no alternative to in-person study,” Binay Kusiyait, a professor at Tribhuvan University, told the Post. “However, schools can be opened only if there is assurance that children are safe there.”
Public health experts say if the government is all set to open schools, it should ensure sitting arrangements are done to maintain adequate distance between students, everyone is masked properly and there’s no crowd in the playground or in the canteens. “There’s nothing wrong in trying to return to normalcy,” said Dr GD Thakur, former director-general at the Department of Health Services, told the Post. “But such plans should be backed by necessary safety measures.”