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Areas safe to reopen schools to be mapped

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A motorist rides past Chroy Changvar primary school in June. Hong Menea

Areas safe to reopen schools to be mapped

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has given its municipal and provincial department two weeks to put together a report detailing which schools in their territory can safely reopen because of low Covid-19 transmission in their localities, while some schools are pushing to reopen soon.

On August 31, Prime Minister Hun Sen instructed education minister Hang Chuon Naron to prepare to reopen schools in areas that are relatively safe from the pandemic.

Hem Sinareth, director of the capital’s education department, told The Post on September 2 that Chuon Naron held a virtual meeting on September 1 with municipal and provincial governors and education departments regarding preparations for school reopening.

He said once the ministry receives the reports, it will combine them in a summary report and submit it to Hun Sen for approval. Once approval is given, in-person schooling will resume in the areas where it has been deemed safe.

Sinareth said Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng held at least one meeting previously on the matter, but they had not yet decided which or how many schools in the capital might be allowed to reopen.

He noted that in Phnom Penh, there are more than 250 public schools, from kindergarten to Grade 12.

Kampong Speu provincial governor Vei Samnang told The Post on September 2 that only eight of the nearly 400 schools in his province will stay shut down due to Covid transmission rates in their localities, but he expects they will reopen as soon as final approval is granted.

“I am optimistic that all schools will reopen soon because all of the students, teachers and education officials in our province have been fully vaccinated,” he said.

According to Samang, some schools in his province had been used as quarantine centres recently, but all of them have been cleared out now and disinfected in preparation for the resumption of regular classes and will be fully ready as soon as mid-September.

Muon Thyda, a Grade 12 student at Chea Sim Boeung Keng Kang High School in Phnom Penh, said she was delighted to hear that schools will reopen soon because learning online was not as easy or as fun as taking classes in-person.

“I am vaccinated and I hope that the school will reopen soon. I am so happy that the prime minister will permit school to resume. But I’m not sure if my school is among those that will receive permission to reopen,” she said.

She said her ability to learn and progress in her studies has been limited since schools closed in March and was concerned about passing her upcoming high school diploma exam.

Although the national authorities have yet to reach consensus on the matter, some schools in Prey Veng province’s Pea Reang district are apparently set to resume on September 6, according to the secretariat of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF).

The secretariat said on September 2 that RCAF commander-in-chief General Vong Pisen visited a school in Pea Reang district which had recently been used as a quarantine centre, but the building is now being prepped to hold classes once again.

“In Pea Reang district, the authorities will reopen schools on Monday, September 6, by following strict hygiene measures, wearing masks and keeping safe distances in the classroom to prevent transmission,” the secretariat said.

Last month, Save the Children Cambodia and other NGOs released a brief report entitled “National Safe Return to School” that pushed for the government to reopen schools.

The 11-page report said that over 1.5 billion children globally have had their schools closed due to the pandemic since early 2020. In Cambodia, more than three million children have been out of school for the most part for over a year after two major waves of schools closures since March 2020.

The school closures, it said, bring with them the acute risk that children will lose out on learning and never fully get back on track and some may even drop out entirely given the lengthy disruption.

It said that before the start of the pandemic, on average just 82.14 per cent of children in Cambodia had completed primary school.

“We know from previous crises that the longer children are out of school, the greater the risk that they do not return to school, and that they will lose out on vital learning,” the report said.

Cambodia had the longest school closure in the region in 2020, despite the country having one of the lowest numbers of total Covid-19 cases in the world.

“Prolonged school closures have a significant impact on children’s skills, attainment and earning prospects. While this is a big issue for individual children, the collective negative impact on Cambodian society and the economy will be even more significant,” the report said.

It said there is little proof that school closures make any significant contribution to controlling the pandemic and that Covid-19 in general does not pose a high risk to children.

“The government should ensure that all children are able to return to school as soon as it is safe to do so, especially for preschools and primary schools,” the report said, adding that the reopened schools should follow the education ministry’s Safe Operation of Schools guidelines.

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