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Higher education set to reopen

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Students are studying in a classroom at Preah Sisowath High School on the first day of reopening, on September 15. Heng Chivoan

Higher education set to reopen

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on September 27 announced its decision to permit universities across the country to reopen as recommended by Prime Minister Hun Sen, though no timeframe has been set.

All universities must follow the ministry’s standard operating procedures (SOP) as well as preventive measures introduced by the Ministry of Health.

Approximately 5,000 schools serving around one million students have resumed in-person instruction in classrooms throughout the Kingdom since September 15, when the government allowed middle and high schools, both public and private, to reopen after the formulation of safe reopening plans through consultations among officials and with advice from the UN and World Health Organisation in Cambodia.

“For now, there are over 5,000 schools that have reopened across the country and around one million students are attending them. However, one million students is actually a small number given Cambodia’s [large] youth population.

“Therefore, the ministry decided today to permit higher education institutions such as universities to proceed with reopening as well,” said education minister Hang Chuon Naron.

The minister made the remarks in conjunction with his attendance at an education policy forum on early childhood learning and development hosted virtually by the NGO Save the Children on September 27.

He said his ministry is moving forward with plans to reopen primary schools in locales with light Covid-19 transmission, while holding off for now in places like Siem Reap province, which is currently undergoing very high rates of infections so some of its schools will have to wait until there is real improvement with the Covid-19 situation.

“The locations with low transmission will receive permission from the ministry to reopen kindergartens and primary schools. For locations with medium transmission, reopening is focused on grades 9 and 12 because those students need to take national exams.

“For the locations that still have high transmission, we must continue our virtual learning and teaching,” he said.

According to the ministry, in the two-year period since the pandemic began, over 600 teachers have been infected with the disease and 20 of them have died from it. He said those infections generally took place before Cambodia’s vaccination campaigns got underway.

“The government made vaccinations for teachers a priority. We noted that three months after our teachers were given their second doses, we had no more teachers die from Covid-19. Also, around 4,000 students have been infected, but none of them has died,” he said.

“[We] will once again permit teaching and learning in classrooms, laboratories, research facilities and vocational learning in workplace settings,” the ministry said in announcing the reopening of universities.

According to the announcement, all universities have to set up mitigation mechanisms and information platforms and they must consult with the education ministry on the situation during the first phase of reopening.

Each class must have no more than 20 students in attendance and everyone in the classroom must be able to maintain a safe distance of 1.5m.

The sale of food and beverages in the schools remains banned for now along with all sporting activities, use of communal water sources like drinking fountains and eating meals on campus brought from outside the school facilities.

The ministry also bans communication or contact between different classrooms. All students must wear face masks and follow all of the required health measures. It also instructed universities to prepare to administer frequent rapid Covid-19 tests to students and staff.

The health ministry has recommended that any staff members who are over the age of 50 continue to teach remotely from home. All students and staff members on campus must be fully vaccinated unless they have a valid reason for exemption.

Uk Chhayavy, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, said most teachers have been fully vaccinated and some with booster shots as well. She noted, however, that many teachers still fear the highly contagious coronavirus Delta variant, which has infected even vaccinated people in large numbers, though overwhelmingly with less harm done to them than to the unvaccinated.

“We are still concerned because in just a few days after schools reopened, some have already tested positive for Covid-19 and many people were in contact with them so that can lead to quarantines and it may not be easy. I worry too even though I always wear a mask and frequently wash my hands,” she said.

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