Since installing enough hand washing stations and hand sanitizers in the schools as preparedness to combat COVID-19 pandemic is a prerequisite for their reopening, the government will be utilizing the school stipend budget.
We have not used the school stipend budget due to closure of schools, the Education Minister, Jai B. Rai said. “The budget will be also be used to buy face masks and hand sanitizers in schools, if the schools reopen.”
He said the budget for hand washing stations and water supply is to be appropriated from the stipend saved from the month of March-May 2020. “We have stipend budget for school in each Dzongkhags and the Ministry of Education is to support the funding gap in case of deficits,” he said.
According to education ministry, directive has been conveyed to the Dzongkhags and Thromdes to initiate supply of pipe water or create storage facilities, and also install hand-washing stations as per the standard design, rationally considering number of students and staff before end of May 2020.
“All Dzongkhags Education Officers (DEO) are directed to carry out the work at the earliest so that the schools can be re-opened safely as and when the government decides on the date,” said the education minister.
He added there are few schools where due to location they are not able to install amenities. “There is no use installing water taps, if the schools don’t have water supplies in schools but we are planning to make all facilities ready before re-opening schools.”
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.
“The government is concerned over the education of children and equally, care for their health and well-being,” said Lyonpo adding that the biggest risk is the possibility of pandemic break out in schools and educational institutions.
The ministry is ready to reopen schools is waiting for command from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), said Lyonpo. “NDMA will guide us whether to open the schools or not.”
Meanwhile, the ministry will soon come up with second and third wave of e-learning if the schools remain closed.
To ensure that students continue to learn at home, Lyonpo said MoE is working to implement Education in Emergencies (EinE), through the national broadcaster, Bhutan Broadcasting Service.
The government has endorsed the EinE implementation guidelines and circulated nationwide. The guidelines serve as standard operating procedures for all that have a stake in education continuity.
“This program will oversee the quality of lessons being broadcast through national television,” Lyonpo said, adding that 70% of the students are engaged in e-learning program till now.
He added that MoE will be enforcing three programs if the schools reopen in a phased manner. “Schools will be made to teach students shift-wise-both E-learning and EinE,” he said.
Kinley Yonten from Thimphu