A policy dialogue on “Reopening schools and education delivery until then” was held by the Education Forum Sri Lanka (EFSL) on May 15th, 2021, via Zoom.
Full Video: PD#15, 2 hours 33 minutes (In Sinhala)
- Dr. Tara de Mel, Former Secretary, Ministry of Education
- Ms. Renuka Peiris, Former Director, Health and Safety, Ministry of Education
- Mr. R. Weerasinghe, Divisional Director of Education, Vavuniya South
Dr. Tara de Mel warned that we may recover from the health impact or the economic impact, but the impact of lost years of education for children or children lost to the system due to dropping out will present a Covid Education Catastrophe with long term implications. She made a plea for prioritizing teachers for vaccinations and developing a plan without delay for opening schools at the end of this third wave of the Covid-19. Such a plan should include vaccinations for teachers and regular testing of teachers and students using an inexpensive test such as the Rapid Antigen Test (RAT).
Mr. Weerasinghe echoed Dr. de Mel’s sentiments saying that the Vavuniya South division he represents has a diverse community from farmers in the interior to fishermen in the coastal areas, and children of such communities were difficult to contact. These children may have dropped out of education altogether.
Mr. Weerasinghe further said that during the lockdowns in 2020 rural schools gained somewhat on urban schools presumably because the small rural schools were able to work under the radar to bring children to school under health guidelines of local medical authorities. That is not possible now because the Ministry of Education has issued an all encompassing closure of schools. Mr. Weerasinghe questioned the logic of applying equality of policies to a widely diverse set of schools. For example, policies regarding school openings are made with crowded urban schools with students form across the country in mind, when smaller schools serving a contained community could well stay open. We need school-based solutions, he emphasized. Further he noted that we need to give pride of place to teachers and expect them to take responsibility for the education of children under their charge, and supporting the teachers to do their job.
Mr. Renuka Peiris noted that children are now expected to learn in a home environment which is quite different form the school environment. To compensate they need to be given a timetable appropriate for a self-study in a home setting and teachers need access to model lessons. The teacher-student interactions should be tracked randomly to make sure that teachers are adapting well to the new mode. The focus in distance educaiton is on educational achievement. There is a focus on three national examinations in particular. Is that the objective of education, she asked.
There was consensus that there has to be equal emphasis on student educational achievements, their social-emotional learning and their health and well-being. In distance educaiton the focus has entirely being on transmitting educational content, missing all three purposes of education.
In regard to decentralizing education management allowing schools to make decisions about opening or closing of schools, Ms. Renuka Herath said that by statute the Director General of Health is the ultimate authority for all decisions related to a pandemic, but that power is delegated to Medical Officers of Health (MoH) at divisional level. But in the ensuing discussion it was opined that the ultimate authority for decisions regarding schools rests with the Secretary to the Ministry of Education. He/she will make the decision in consultation with the Director General of Health. At the school level, the principal may make the decisions in consultation with the MoH for the area, if power to make such a decision is delegated to school level by the Ministry of Education.
Mr. Lal Dissanayake, zonal director for education for Matugama, noted that there is indeed a circular from the Ministry that authorizes schools to that effect (Circular 2020/15 and Letter dated Jan 26, 2021), but when the ministry makes a determination that all schools, say in the Western Province, should be closed, school-based committees cannot override such a directive. The Ministry of education should make decisions on school opening or closing with sensitivity to children attending smaller schools serving small communities.
Ministry of Education regulations delegating powers to schools:
මැයි 11, 2020 (Circular 2020/05)
විදුහල්පතිගේ ප්රධානත්වයෙන් පාසැල් සෞඛ්ය ප්රවර්ධන කමිටු පවත්වාගෙන යාමට ක්රියා කළ යුතුය. සෞඛ්ය අමාත්යංශයේ නිර්දේශ වලට අනුව පාසැල් ආරම්භ කිරීම සිදු කළ යුතු වන්නේ සෞඛ්යාරක්ෂිත පරිසරයක් පවතින බවට සෞඛරක්ෂක කමිටුවේ තහවුරුවකින් පසුව පමණි.
Latter dated January 26, 2021
පාසැල් මට්ටමින් තීරණ ගැනීම විදුහල්පතිගේ ප්රධානත්වයෙන් යුතුව පාසැල් සංවර්ධන විධායක කමිටුව හා සෞඛ්ය ප්රවර්ධන කමිටුව එක්ව පහත සඳහන් නිලධාරීන්ද සම්බන්ධ කර ගනිමින් පිහිටුවන ලබන ප්රධාන කමිටුවට පාසැල ආරම්භ කර පවත්වා ගෙන යෑම සඳහා අවශ්ය සියලු තීරණ ගැනීමේ බලතල පැවරේ. යම් ගැටළු කාරී අවස්ථාවක් වේ නම් වැඩිදුර උපදෙස් කලාප අධ්යාපන අධ්යක්ෂගෙන් ලබා ගත යුතුය:
ප්රාදේශීය සෞඛ්ය වෛද්ය නිලධාරී මහජන සෞඛ්ය පරීක්ෂක ග්රාම නිලධාරී පොලීසිය ප්රාදේශීය ප්රවාහන අධිකාරී නියෝජිත