We are in the thick of a pandemic, but relief is on the horizon thanks to science. More and more vaccines are becoming available and self-tests for Covid-19 are becoming cheaper. This is exactly the time for Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Education and Provincial authorities to get into action with a roadmap in hand. Following is a roadmap based on our previous ten-point policy for mitigating the Covid education crisis of children being out of school for 16+ months.
1. Designate 240,000 teachers as a priority group for vaccinations
The Ministry of Health has published a priority list with ‘government officers in field’ as a fourth priority category. Extrapolating from ministry estimates, we find that 4.4 million doses including boosters would cover categories 1-3. COVAX has committed 8.3 million doses and other donations and purchases are expected to cover any delays in COVAX commitments. If the government sticks to its priority plan, teachers can be vaccinated after the 4.4m million priority doses are administered.
2. Place orders for low-cost self-test kits immediately
There is evidence that the transmissibility of SARS-CoV 2 is highest teacher-to-teacher and among older students, hence our focus on vaccinating teachers. If older students can be vaccinated, well and good, but regular testing of teachers and older students is a must. The ministry should be on the lookout for low-cost test kits (e.g., from India) and place orders now.
3. Require schools to focus on core-competencies and the welfare of home-bound students
Currently schools are engaging with only those who can connect BPO or OPO (Both parties online / One party online) methods. Teachers are delivering notes and assignments on 13 or more subjects in some cases to 50% of students, when common sense dictates that schools should focus on delivering core competencies to ALL students by whatever means. It is not impossible. Sri Lanka has an extensive network of school and teachers; students have textbooks at home and nearly universal voice telephony coverage. It is not too late for the Ministry or the National Institute of Education to identify core competencies.
There also should be an online module to help teachers to be listeners to their students and refer families or students to appropriate committees at the Grama Niladhari level to follow up with psychosocial, nutritional, and other welfare issues as needed.
4. Mandate bi-annual diagnostic tests on ALL students to assess their core-competencies
Schools or divisional or zonal education offices already have the capability to develop and administer these tests. Central ministry may issue some guidelines and mandate such tests, until national examination can be held. Schools should use these for identifying learning gaps and taking remedial action.
5. Postpone all national exams for at least for one year
National Exams in 2021 should be scheduled only after diagnosing learning gaps of students and applying remedial measures. Priority should be in getting ALL students up to a minimum standard in core competencies. Until formal admissions can made, universities and other tertiary institutions should post their year-1 curriculum as open online courses to all who complete 13 years of education.
6. Open schools gradually, delegating decisions to schools
The Ministry of Education has already issued a circular authorizing schools to take decisions regarding openings and closings in consultation with the MoH for the area, but when the ministry makes a declaration that all schools should be closed, school-based committees cannot override such a directive. We request the Ministry to lift the current directive and make local decision-making the modus operandi.
Sujata Gamage & Tara de Mel | Co-Coordinators