All students head to school tomorrow as warning bells ring over COVID-19
By Nadia Fazlulhaq
Grades 6 to 9 classes will begin tomorrow in schools islandwide, marking the fourth and final stage of the staggered opening of schools. However, there are concerns as a large number of unvaccinated students begin academic activities in state and private schools amidst rising cases of COVID-19. There is concern over rising dengue cases too. According to the Education Ministry's Annual School Census of 2020, the junior secondary cycle (grades 6 to 9) has a population of 1.3 million students of a total student population of four million. School academic activities began last monthwith thecommencement ofprimary classes followed by Ordinary and Advanced Level classes. A majority of schools will be bringing in students in batches, with classes comprising 35-40 students having 20 or a less number of students every other day of the week or on a weekly basis. Schools with a smaller student population will see students attending classes daily. Out of the country's four million school student population, the majority (927,877 students) is from the Western province and 46,139 teachers will be entering or moving within the province. Western Province Education Director Srilal Nonis said school authorities have been instructed to strictly carry out COVID-19 related health and hygiene precautions in schools. “The more students mean, there is a risk of COVID-19 spreading rapidly if they do not take hygiene practices seriously both within the schools and at homes. The same goes for transportation,” he said. Northern Province Education secretary L.Ilaangovan said education authorities in Killinochchi and Vavuniya have been instructed to be vigilant as a number of COVID-19 patients have been reported from among the school community. “Schools are ready for re-opening and continuing academic activities. But due to the recent floods and bad weather many are showing flu-like symptoms especially the children,” he said. Southern Province’s Education Director Nimal Dissanayake said all grades in 1107 schools in the province will be starting from tomorrow. “There were separate meetings on dengue and COVID-19 prevention mechanisms in schools. There have been isolated incidents of school teachers and students being tested positive for COVID-19. The respective classes are closed for a week or two but not the whole school,” he said. Mahamaya Girls' College, Kandy principal S.Senadheera said cleaning and disinfecting class rooms have been completed and students will attend school in two groups on a weekly basis. “Health officials have given permission for 50 percent accommodation in the hostel. Students from grade 6, 7 and 8 will stay in the hostel for a week followed by students from grades 9 to 11 the next week,” she said. Kuliyapitiya Central College principal B.C.S.Wijesinghe said students are keen to return to school but lack transport options. “Most students come from rural places. We hope we get permission to begin hostel facilities,” he said. He said teachers have been provided with online facilities within the school to conduct classes for students in batches to speed up covering syllabuses. Since October 25, the National Institute of Education (NIE) has been implementing a 100day programme under its ‘implementation of recovery plan to address the learning loss due to COVID-19. The programme in Sinhala, Tamil and English seeks to cover the learning loss resulted by the pandemic during 2020 and 2021. NIE Dr. Sunil Jayantha Nawaratne told the Sunday Times that students and parents too would be able to visit the NIE’s website to have an understanding on what syllabuses have been covered under the recovery programme. Meanwhile the All Island Schoolchildren Transport Association’s Secretary Lal Chandrasiri said many involved in the school transport services had sought other livelihoods due to the pandemic. “We requested the Education Ministry to reopen schools at the beginning of the month. Some parents did not pay us properly. Many in the service faced hardships and sold their vehicles. Prices of vehicle parts have also increased by big margins. School transportation will not be very profitable but we will continue for the sake of schoolchildren,” he said. National Transport Commission Director General Commander (Retd) Nilan Miranda told the Sunday Times that they are prepared to to cater transport facilities for students from tomorrow. The Sri Lanka Transport Board said 1400 Sisu Seriya buses will be deployed. Meanwhile Public Health Inspectors (PHI) Union President Upul Rohana warned if the public acted in a reckless manner and new COVID-clusters emerge schools may once again face closure.