Sri Lanka among only 15 countries with schools closed: Education Forum Sri Lanka

  • Education Forum urges Govt. to reopen schools 
  • Reopening strategy based on vaccines, testing 

BY Buddhika Samaraweera 

Emphasising that Sri Lanka is only one among approximately 15 countries in the world where schools remain closed, the Education Forum Sri Lanka (EFSL) has urged the need for reopening schools following proper health guidelines in a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. 

The letter, dated Saturday, 4 September, and also addressed to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, and Minister of Education Dinesh Gunawardana, emphasised that several countries have kept schools open with multiple safeguards in place even during dangerous waves of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“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,” EFSL Co-ordinators Dr. Sujata Gamage and Dr. Tara de Mel have noted in the letter. 

With the aim of reopening schools, EFSL has urged the authorities to expedite double-dose vaccination of all teachers, principals, and school administrators, and to initiate vaccination of students between 12 and 18 years immediately. 

To ensure regular testing, the letter has called for self-test antigen kits to be ordered as was done in the UK. 

“The UK price is £ 2-3 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,” the letter noted. 

In addition, EFSL has requested the authorities to empower provincial, zonal and divisional officers to work with health sector authorities to reopen and keep smaller schools open. 

“This can be done on a staggered basis, starting with a 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 a pandemic is in place as soon as possible,” the letter read. 

In the letter EFSL has warned of the dangers and ill effects of online education as a long-term substitute for traditional classroom based teaching. 

“With a teachers’ strike or not, schools in Sri Lanka have been closed for over 18 months due to the ongoing Covid-19 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 while trying to access the 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. Let Sri Lanka not make the mistake of overestimating the usefulness of closing schools and underestimate the socio-economic fall out of closing schools,” it added. 

Schools islandwide have been closed for more than a year and a half due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Although teachers took action to conduct online teaching activities for the students due to the closure of schools, the online teaching activities are not being carried out at present due to the trade union launched by the teachers’ and principals’ trade unions from 12 July, demanding solutions to the issues in the education sector, including the teacher-principal salary anomaly issue. 

Attempts to contact the Minister of Education Dinesh Gunawardena to inquire if there is any plan to reopen schools in the coming days proved futile.