September 04, 2021
HE the President, Gotabhaya Rajapakse
Hon Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapakse, MP
Hon Minister of Education, Mr. Dinesh Gunewardene, MP
Hon Leader of the Opposition, Sajith Premadasa, MP
The urgent need to prepare for the opening of schools
This is in reference to the previous letter we wrote in July 2021 signed by several academics, educationists, and health sector personnel. (https://educationforum.lk/2021/07/press-release-6-a-letter-to-authorities-about-the-covid-education-crisis/).
With a teacher strike or not, schools in Sri Lanka have been closed for over 18 months due to the ongoing pandemic. Even those students who had access to internet-based education through their teachers constituted only half the student population. We have also seen the multiple dangers faced by students in remote areas in trying to access internet and we know the dangers of students facing screens for hours. The mental health and emotional issues faced by locked-in students compound all above.
Opening schools is the only equitable and effective solution.
All global agencies responsible for education (e.g., UNICEF, UNESCO) have recommended that schools should be kept open because of the grave consequences of depriving students of long-term, in-person or physical education. Several countries in the world kept schools open with multiple safeguards in place, even during dangerous waves of the pandemic. Most remain open even at present. Today there are only about 15 countries where schools are shut. Sri Lanka is one of them.
Therefore, we urge to you attend to the following without delay so that schools are ready to be opened no sooner than this current wave of the pandemic is on the wane:
- Expedite double-dose vaccination of all teachers, principals, and school administrators.
- Initiate vaccination of students between 12 and 18 immediately.
- Order self-test antigen Kits
UK price is 2-3 Pounds for one kit with seven tests, India will be much cheaper. In the UK and several other countries, teachers and children use the self-test a few days a week prior to attending school. If they test positive, they self-isolate.
- Do not have the same policy for all schools.
Empower Provincial, Zonal, Divisional officers to work with health sector authorities to re-open and keep smaller schools open. This can be done on a staggered basis, starting with few classes at a time.
- Use this opportunity to identify essential learning outcomes in the curriculum so that a leaner and less stressful curriculum suitable for pandemic conditions is in place as soon as possible.
Let Sri Lanka not make the mistake of overestimating the usefulness of closing schools and underestimate the socio-economic fall out of closing schools.
Dr Sujata Gamage & Dr Tara de Mel | Co-coordinators