Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting a delay of school reopening across the Kingdom until November, when the new academic year begins.
In his letter, Chuon Naron said the postponement is warranted to avoid the new coronavirus spreading in communities and to prevent a second wave of Covid-19 infections, despite the Kingdom reporting no new case over the past month.
As of Wednesday, only one out of a total of 122 Covid-19 patients remained hospitalised.
Chuon Naron said the ministry is closely monitoring the Covid-19 situation in Cambodia and beyond, especially its impact on education worldwide.
The letter came after representatives of the Cambodian Higher Education Association and state universities requested academic resumption on the fourth week of this month or at the earliest date possible. The request was made during a recent inter-ministerial meeting led by the Ministry of Health.
“The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport does not ignore economic issues [caused by Covid-19] and school reopening. We are working on this step by step and are focusing on academic resumption for university, Grade 12 and Grade 9 students who are preparing for their examinations at an appropriate time.
“The ministry will look further into school reopening before the beginning of the new academic year on November 1,” he said.
Chuon Naron said despite the relatively low number of infections in Cambodia, Covid-19 is still spreading all over the world, with at least four million people infected and more than 286,000 dead since its first outbreak late last year.
In Southeast Asia alone, he said nearly 60,000 have contracted the disease and some 2,000 have lost their lives.
Chuon Naron said Cambodia is not alone in implementing precautionary measures, including temporary school closures, as the world strives to produce an effective vaccine and drugs to fight the contagious disease.
He said the Kingdom is not ready to follow other countries that have reopened schools under certain conditions.
The health ministry said in a recent press conference that Cambodia cannot rule out a second wave of infections and warned the public to remain vigilant.
It said the Kingdom would be at high risk if the public fails to follow precautionary measures, including following regular hygiene practices and social distancing as recommended by health experts.
Chuon Naron said the delay in reopening school is due to both political and technical aspects. Technically, he said the number of students in a classroom ranges from 50 to 60 – far beyond the World Health Organisation’s guideline which recommends a maximum of 20 per class.
He cautioned that reopening schools too soon would put students at risk and could turn them into sources of infections.
“Countries that have reopened schools limit the number of students to 20 per class. Therefore, teachers have to work more than one shift through actual and virtual classrooms. If they work two shifts, they are entitled to additional pay. So on technical aspects, Cambodia cannot reopen schools now.
“Among 186 countries worldwide, only nine have declared school reopening,” he said.
On the political aspect, he said the government cannot put the Kingdom at risk of a second wave of infections that could affect the general elections in 2023, among other issues. He said the government also needs to prioritise the well-being of the roughly three million education staff and students.
Cambodian Higher Education Association chairperson, Heng Vanda, whose organisation counts 114 schools as its members, said the delay is not a good option given the challenges it poses to private educational institutions. He said schools need to pay rent for campuses and bank loans.
“Paying rent is one thing. But the electricity bill is another big issue that we cannot afford. Currently educational institutions still pay salaries to their staff, but we can afford to do so for only a few more months. We cannot afford it longer than that.
“If we continue the closure, they will die, not from Covid 19 but from economic constraints.