A timely move | Daily News

A timely move

The long-awaited re-opening of schools in the Western Province is showing signs of becoming a reality soon with the green light already given by authorities for recommencing all but five schools in the Gampaha and Kalutara districts. Accordingly, 589 of the 590 schools in the Gampaha District and 442 out of 446 schools in the Kalutara district have been given the all-clear and they are scheduled to re-open on February 15.

A decision on re-opening schools in the Colombo district is to be taken within this week. Presently, schools in the Western Province, except in isolated areas, have been re-opened only for Grade11 students. Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris had expressed his views on the adverse effects of having schools shut down almost indefinitely. There is no gainsaying the effect this would have on the educational prospects of the young schoolgoers most of whom have been cooped up in their homes without seeing the inside of a classroom for nearly one year.

True, many availed themselves of the online learning facility, but for a large majority of them this had been only an elusive dream. Besides, online learning and being tutored within the classroom atmosphere are poles apart. Education is not just about book learning. It also involves character moulding and things like confidence building, teacher–pupil rapport, mixing with others and other attributes vital for the rounded development of the student that would serve him or her well in the future and which only a school environment can provide.

For many it will be a case of starting from scratch. Hence, the further the delay in re-opening schools, the more the damage that would be caused to the student population, the impact of which could be disastrous from the point of view of creating an educated future generation. Besides, what is the rationale in having a prolonged closure of schools when the country has already embraced the “New Normal” concept under which all offices, businesses and commercial concerns are functioning? It was only on Monday that the authorities decided to re-open all the zoological gardens. The airports too have been opened and tourists are arriving in their numbers.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena has added his voice in support of Prof. Peiris calling for the re-opening of schools. The Speaker warned that the country ran the risk of producing a backward generation through the prolonged closure of schools and called for the re-opening of all schools without delay. No doubt, the Speaker may have had in mind the closure of our Universities for lengthy periods during times of political unrest and similar upheavals in the recent past snatching away a good part of the campus life of students which made them sit their exams years past their due time. We may well see a similar situation if we continue to keep the schools closed making this lot sit for their GCE (O/L) exams at an age they should be in employment or at an advanced stage in their higher education. After all, health experts have warned that the pandemic will not fade away for another two to three years.

Are we to keep the students home-bound for this length of time? True, some teachers too had been reported to have contracted the virus. However with a call going out from Minister Prof. Peiris for the next stage of the vaccination to be reserved for teachers, the risk level for students would be considerably reduced which in turn should encourage the parents to send their children to school.

Also this time around, the schools should be opened uniformly and not in fits and starts and certainly not selectively. The school syllabus is a uniform one common to all students in the country and exams too are held at the same time for all. Therefore attendance of all students should remain constant and in an unbroken chain for all, if a level playing field is to prevail when exams are due.

The prolonged closure of schools has also caused the loss of livelihood for many but the most telling blow no doubt had been dealt to the school van operators who not only have lost a steady income but also find it difficult now to meet lease repayments and vehicle maintenance costs. Even if the schools resume they would still be in a predicament by being forced to transport only restricted numbers in conformity with the health guidelines. Thus the “New Normal” concept has plusses and minuses.

On the plus side, the people are now less likely to contract diseases and viruses from others by the compulsory wearing of facemasks and by observing the distance rule. They can also travel in public transport now free of hassle and oppressive conditions due to the strict “seat number accommodation only” rule. On the other hand, others have to make do with drastically slashed salaries, income losses and the drying up of revenue sources. There is no knowing how long this situation will last. One could only hope for a turnaround soon and live with optimism.