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Educators urge President not to open schools without a plan

ECONOMYNEXT – A group of renowned educators and school administrators is urging the government to refrain from re-opening schools on May 11 without a transparent plan based on science.

In a letter sent to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa Monday April 20, the 13 educators suggest that the government take a look at the re-opening based on a priority basis.

They say the GCE O/L classes could, for instance, be opened first as delaying those examinations would have a cascading effect.

The group which includes Professors Savitri Gunesekara and Siri Hettige point out that studies done on school-going children in other COVID 19 affected countries have shown that the vast majority of students, more than 90 per cent had mild infections or did not show any symptoms. Only around 6 per cent of the kids were seriously ill.

In contrast, nearly one in five older people became very ill when they contracted the virus. “This shows the greater risk of transmission of Covid-19 from children to adults causing severe infection in adults necessitating intensive care” the letter warned.

The estimated current student population in government and private schools is approximately 4.5million with over 200,000 teachers in Sri Lanka.

The letter said that although they “recognize the importance of reopening of schools and ensuring the students can continue their education and return to normalcy, we are further mindful of the complexity and challenges that will be faced by school authorities, students, parents and service providers, in the midst of the current critical pandemic situation without a transparent exit plan from the lengthy period of lockdown status.”

They offered the following recommendations:

1) The opening of schools should be made on transparent and reliable factual decision made by the health experts, based on their collective agreement with the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, National Child Protection Authority and other relevant stakeholders, on their satisfaction over the containment of the spread of the virus and a safe environment for all school children and citizens.

2) Assess the feasibility of reopening schools on a priority basis, i.e students who are sitting for GCE O/L and A/L examinations in 2020, and in areas in the country where there is health clearance obtained with particular attention to maintaining safe distancing in classroom arrangements ensuring safety of children and staff. A school preparedness plan should be in place that includes early awareness for students, teachers, parents and relevant service providers, suitable facilities and services in schools, as preventive and precautionary actions to contain the spread of the virus.

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3) To ensure the effective functioning of the Education Task Force with representatives of desired skills and experiences in education, health, child development and disaster management, who will make key recommendations to the sector, in the COVID-19 relief response period and during a stipulated period of time in agreement with the stakeholders as mentioned in point (1) above.

4) To learn through foreign expertise especially from the countries where alternative education systems are identified and successfully implemented during the crisis period, to ensure the continuity of school education through alternative means until such time all schools are functioning.

5) Identify the provision of essential school materials and supplies to enable children to resume their school second term (on dates collectively agreed based on recommendations (1), (2) and (3) above), as state support to help parents of a majority of school children, who are faced with financial difficulties in loss of regular income.

6) Provide a safe environment of education non-discriminatory of gender, ethnicity, religion and ensure the implementation of Ministry of Education Circular No 12/2016 in providing education free of mental and physical abuse reminiscent of post Easter tragedy.

Apart from Professors Gunasekara and Hettige the signatories include General Secretary, Ceylon Teachers Union Joseph Stalin, Executive Director, International Women’s and Child Rights Council Dinesh Keerthinanda, Head of Department of Family Medicine, University of Colombo, and Past President Sri Lanka Medical Association Dr Ruvaiz Haniffa and a number of other leading educators. (Colombo, April 20, 2020) Reported by Arjuna Ranawana