UNICEF today commended the Government of Sri Lanka for its decision to reopen primary school grades 1-5 for in-person learning from 21st October and urged for swift steps towards a full resumption of all schools across the country, while ensuring that all measures are taken for a safe return.
“Global evidence continues to show that schools do not drive the spread of COVID-19 in the community and the virus does not pose a high risk to children.”
“Evidence also indicates that teachers are at lower risk of infection in school settings, compared to the general adult population,” the United Nations Children’s Fund said.
Despite some brief periods of opening, physical operation of schools in Sri Lanka has been severely limited since initial closures in March 2020, in a swift move by the government to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
Government efforts to mitigate learning losses through remote learning methods during the closures have helped children to not completely miss out on their education, the statement said.
However, this has been limited by many factors, including varying levels of access to internet connection, laptops, mobile phones, TV, radio and the broader infrastructure that supports these systems, as well as capacity of teachers, education administrations and parents to effectively engage.
The disruption caused by the pandemic has resulted in widening inequalities and learning losses that threaten to reverse and, in the worst case, completely erase the gains made over the past decades, UNICEF stressed.
The reopening of schools provides an opportunity to limit a further widening of inequalities and mitigate the learning losses but only if concerted efforts are made to strengthen systems for recovery and resilience of the education sector.
“The best interest of the child should always be the primary principle when making decisions on children, including on education as the pandemic evolves. School closures should only be considered as a last resort when there are no other alternatives.”
The Government of Sri Lanka has demonstrated a good example in the region in reopening schools in 2020 and can build on that experience to quickly return and keep all learners in the classrooms, it said.
“UNICEF and its partners remain committed to continue providing technical support to Sri Lanka’s commendable efforts in responding to the pandemic and the safe reopening and operation of schools.”