Education institutions ordered shut for four days, stakeholders criticise delayed responseAuthorities took the ‘unilateral’ decision late and encroached upon the jurisdiction of local governments, stakeholders allege.
After witnessing four days of soaring levels of air pollution across the country, the government on Monday ordered all schools and colleges shut for four days.
But stakeholders—parents and school associations—are not happy with the decision as it was taken without proper consultations and after days passed in uncertainty.
Smoke and haze have been covering Kathmandu and other hilly areas in the country since Friday with weather conditions becoming more severe in the afternoons. The air quality has deteriorated in such a way that Kathmandu became the most polluted city in the world. But the government didn’t order schools closed until Monday.
The Ministry of Education, on Monday, directed all schools and colleges to shut down for four days (from March 30-April 2).
“The government should have decided earlier,” said Ratnavati Sthapit, 38, a mother of two school-going children. “For the past few days, my kids have been coming home with irritation in their eyes. Their schools should have been shut from Friday,” said the beautician who lives in Dhalko.
According to IQ Air, a Swiss Group that manages real-time worldwide air quality data, Kathmandu’s Air Quality Index (AQI) has remained between “very unhealthy”
and “hazardous” levels in the last three days with the highest AQI recorded at 411 with PM2.5 at 366 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m3) at 9:45 am on Saturday.
PM.25 (particulate matter) are tiny particles or droplets in the air that are two and one-half microns or less in size. Such particles are considered hazardous as they can penetrate the respiratory tract and reach the lungs to cause various ailments.
Prem Kumari Mishra from Taudaha, is more worried about the future of her son’s health and his studies.
“Last week the government requested people to stay indoors because of bad weather and rising levels of air pollution, but it didn't say anything about closing schools. It should have considered how vulnerable kids are,” said Mishra, whose son studies in grade 10.
“Schools were closed for a year due to the pandemic. It’s been open for barely three months, and he only has three months to prepare for SEE,” said Mishra.
Like Sthapit and Mishra, thousands of parents are worried about their children’s health and their education. Schools and colleges were closed for nine months due to the Covid-19 pandemic last year, and they only opened from the second week of January.
During the early days of the reopening, parents were apprehensive about sending their kids to school as virologists said it was still risky. In recent times, the number of Covid-19 cases has unprecedentedly gone up in neighbouring India and schools and colleges in Kathmandu Valley are in a fix after the government issued a circular advising the public to avoid crowds and strictly observe health and safety protocols for Covid-19.
It’s not just students, members of the general public, mostly in Kathmandu Valley, have also been complaining of headache, cough, eye irritation, and throat infection due to air pollution.
Sanjay Sharma, a secretary at the Ministry of Education, on Monday said the government decided to close schools because of the adverse effects the rising air pollution can have on students’ health.
Suprabhat Bhandari, chairperson of the Guardians Federation Nepal also criticised the government for the delay in its decision to shut schools. “The government was well informed about the hazardous situation on Friday, but why didn’t it take the decision to close schools then?” said Bhandari. He also accused the central government of breaking the protocol and adopting a blanket approach.
“Now we are in a federal setup. Schools across the country reopened in January based on directives from the local government. This time also, they should have been authorised to decide based on local conditions,,” said Bhandari.
Meanwhile, school associations are also not happy that the government didn’t consult them before deciding to shut schools. “It didn’t consult with us and decided unilaterally,” said Tikaram Puri, president of Private and Boarding Schools’ Organisation Nepal (PABSON), an organisation that has over 6,500 schools members all across the country.
“We only learnt about the government's decision from the media,” said Puri.
Some local governments outside the Valley have opposed the government's decision and published separate notices ordering schools to continue classes. “We do not have air pollution and the situation is normal, so our municipality has asked all schools and colleges to continue their classes,” Saradha Khanal, deputy-mayor of Bhimad Municipality, Tanahun.
Other municipalities such as Ilam Municipality, Shikhar Municipality, Doti and Biratnagar Municipality have also issued notices to schools and colleges to conduct classes as normal.