Comprehensive plan needed to deal with COVID-19 second wave threat in winter: MoE

Though education officials are confident about the safety protocol in place as of now

The education ministry needs a comprehensive plan to deal with a potential surge of COVID-19 infections in the winter or a second wave, according to education officials.

However, Chief of School Planning and Coordination Division (SPCD), Kinley Gyeltshen said there is no plan to shut down educational institutions again, amidst a simmering fear that a second wave coupled with winter season could reverse the gains against the pandemic in the country.

“We are confident about our first preparation or COVID protocol for schools,” he said adding both private and public schools were opened under strict restriction and were told by the authorities to follow the standard operating procedures (SOP) to contain the spread of the contagious virus.

He said that the decision of closing schools during the outbreak was a good assessment, which has saved the education sector but now the ministry has no intention to close educational institutions again.

He shared that researchers had warned that a rise in COVID-19 infections could be expected in winter, “but we have strict COVID norms to be followed in all the schools.”

“The pandemic denied many children, particularly those in rural areas, learning and self-development opportunities,” he said, adding education-related units have addressed this problem while getting ready to deal with a possible second wave of Covid-19 infections more efficiently.

Installing enough hand washing stations and hand sanitizers in all the schools was a preparatory measure to combat COVID-19 pandemic. The government utilized the school stipend budget for these infrastructures to keep it in long run.

Education Minister, Jai Bir Rai said the budget will also be used to buy face masks and hand sanitizers in schools for every school. And directive has been conveyed to every school to follow COVID guidelines or SOP to avoid further disruptions to the education of students.

There are more than 250,000 students including teachers and staffs in the school across the country. Around 170,263 children from classes PP to XII are not attending school as of now and almost 100,000 students of X-XII are in the schools right now.

“As per research, if the second wave occurs in winter and if there are positive cases in a particular school, we have to impose lockdown as per government directives,” said Kinley Gyeltshen.

“The government is concerned about the education of children and equally, care for their health and well-being,” he said, adding that the biggest risk is the possibility of pandemic break out in schools and educational institutions.

However, there are many other factors that have an impact on the quality of education in the country and the education ministry has implemented adaptive curriculum and assessment instead of conventional school curriculum and assessment.

Lyonpo Jai Bir Rai said as such prioritized curriculum has a dedicated section on assessment approaches and strategies and the Ministry of Education implemented education in emergency-II.

He said the prioritized curriculum is a refined curriculum that emphasizes on the primary, most fundamental and essential learning contents and concepts that are aligned to the most carefully selected learning outcomes and objectives in each learning area for each class level.

“Even if the second wave occurs, learning will not be the problem,” he said, adding it encompasses procedural knowledge, skills, values, strategies, and processes among others. “E-learning program has not been that successful for learning but it does help students to stay engaged.”

The prioritized curriculum comprises 65-70% of the actual curriculum content which has been calculated based on the remaining instructional time left for the academic year 2020.

The curriculum places emphasis on fundamental key concepts with limited scope on elaborative areas, selects common themes with a few topics or chapters under one or two lessons, and focuses on the development of competencies on the selected themes rather than emphasizing on academic knowledge and examples.

“The curriculum engages students to explore further on the concepts through interactive learning activities and it is assessed for both learning improvement and promotion to next higher classes,” said Lyonpo.

Additionally, it set out new direction for school curriculum for the “new normal” post COVID-19.

Kinley Yonten from Thimphu