One of the most common question asked by students and parents these days is “When Reopen schools and universities in Sri Lanka? There have been many discussions and communiques over how the country should return to normalcy amidst the coronavirus pandemic, and the students in the country is now feeling pressurized with the indecisiveness on school and university reopening dates.
When Schools Reopening in Sri Lanka?
Minister of Education Dullas Alahapperuma says that a decision is yet to be made on the date schools will reopen, and it will be based on the recommendations of the Ministry of Health and advice of the health authorities.
Dullas Alahapperuma says that a decision on the reopening of schools under several phases will be taken next week.
Once schools are subjected to a sterilization process, Principals and Teachers will be asked to report to schools first.
As the second phase, the schools will be open students facing the G.C.E. A/L exam and O/L examination. After that other grades and finally primary sections will be opened.
Schools were originally scheduled to reopen on 20 April, which was then postponed to 4 May, and was again reconsidered as the number of cases kept increasing at an alarming rate over the past few weeks.
When Universities Reopening in Sri Lanka?
Universities will only be for the non-academic staff on the 11th of May 2020, said Minister of Higher Education Bandula Gunawardena. Some members of the non-academic staff have been requested to report for duty over the sterilization process carried out in the university premises.
There is no intention of opening universities under the traditional method, as social distancing may not be maintained, he added.
“Reopening universities for the undergraduates will take time as there is curfew and people would not be allowed to travel between districts. Even with the curfew being in effect, medical and science faculties of several universities are tasked with conducting real-time PCR tests these days. The staff affiliated with these faculties’ research and laboratory facilities are already following strict health and safety guidelines whilst conducting their test work. Therefore, the same level of precaution can be employed throughout the other faculties as well” Prof. Sampath Amaratunge said.
Universities and Campuses were to reopen in three stages starting from 4 May, but that date too has now been postponed.
How schools Reopen ?
Schools will be only open for the academic staff at first, the non-academic staff later, after which Advanced Level (A/L) students, and then other students.
Ministry of Education Director – Health and Nutrition Renuka Peiris explained that all educational institutes, state-owned and privately owned, will follow the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services when schools are permitted to reopen.
“We are looking at allocating funds for 5,000 schools initially to purchase the necessary equipment to facilitate handwashing. The allocations will be released next week once the Minister signs off on the request. We are also partnering up with the Sri Lanka Red Cross and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), with which selected schools will work closely to be trained in following the guidelines.”
Sri Lanka Red Cross will also use these schools as a model to observe the effectiveness of their training, how well the school system could adapt to employing precautions, and how well the equipment would be maintained by the schools.
Students will be especially trained to sanitise their classroom furniture such as their own desks and chairs and any educational instruments they use during their time at school. Peiris also noted that a set of guidelines with detailed instructions will be published on Monday (4). In addition, the provincial and zonal directors of education from each area have been instructed to report back to the Ministry of Education on the level of preparedness of each school within the coming week.
Solving logistical issues
“Reopening schools will also present logistical issues and we will have to provide instructions to the school van drivers on how they should arrange transport for the children. We will also instruct parents on what precautions need to be taken when they are sending their children to school,” shared Peiris.
Meanwhile, Minister of Education Dullas Alahapperuma last week said that a decision is yet to be made on the date schools will reopen, and it will be based on the recommendations of the Ministry of Health and advice of the health authorities.
“We are talking about the lives of nearly five million children who are of school-attending age. We are not going to endanger the future of this country. This is why we are having continuous discussions on how the school system needs to prepare and what precautions and safety measures should be in place, so that children could go back to school,” Alahapperuma added.
With the number of Covid-19-positive patients still increasing, the Ministry of Education will reconsider whether schools will be reopened on 11 May after inquiring from the health authorities. Schools will be only open for the academic staff at first, the non-academic staff later, after which Advanced Level (A/L) students, and then other students.
Alahapperuma also pointed out that it would be difficult for schoolkids to maintain a one-metre distance as there are 45 students on average per classroom. According to Peiris, at present, the Ministry of Education is looking at keeping schools open for six days of the week once it reopens in order to manage this obstacle.
“So, half of the class will come to school on one day and the other half of the class will come to school the next day. This method needs to be further discussed, i.e. whether the students will come to school on alternating days or whether there would be a better method to follow,” Peiris said.
Open for research purposes
In terms of reopening universities, the University Grants Commission (UGC) in April had issued a circular stating that universities were scheduled to open from 4 May onwards in three stages. However, with the present situation where clusters are being identified, and the increasing number of persons contracting the Covid-19 virus, the UGC has reconsidered.
“Universities that aren’t located in the high-risk zones have already resumed work for their academic staff. We have a lot of research work that’s tied up with international research work and need to provide the facilities for our scientists and academics reading for their postgraduate and doctoral studies to enable them to continue with their work,” UGC Chairman Prof. Sampath Amaratunge said.
Following the issuance of the circular instructing the reopening universities for academic and non-academic staff only for research purposes, Prof. Amaratunge said only about 20% of the academic and non-academic staff in universities located in the districts in which curfew is lifted are required to report to work.
He also noted that even with the curfew being in effect, medical and science faculties of several universities are tasked with conducting real-time PCR tests these days. The staff affiliated with these faculties’ research and laboratory facilities are already following strict health and safety guidelines whilst conducting their test work. Therefore, Prof. Amaratunge affirmed that the same level of precaution can be employed throughout the other faculties as well.
“We will also implement the general precautionary measures termed in the circular issued by the Department of Public Administration, when the universities are fully reopened. However, reopening universities for the undergraduates will take time as there is going to be a lockdown and people would not be allowed to travel between districts,” Prof. Amaratunge noted.
As undergraduates as well as some academic and non-academic staff may not necessarily be living in the district in which their university is located, and as they would have to adhere to regulations imposed by law enforcement and health authorities with the ongoing pandemic, they would likely not get a chance to return to their accommodation facilities immediately either.