The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport said it has no immediate plan to reopen schools that have been ordered shut across the Kingdom amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

This comes despite the fact that some two million rural students are unable to access its E-Learning and Distance Learning programmes as they either do not have smartphones or televisions.

Explaining its decision in response to a request by the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (Cita) for a partial reopening, Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron said the ministry’s E-Learning and Distance Learning programmes are still receiving support among students and parents.

On March 14, the government ordered all schools – from kindergartens to university level – to shut down.

Lessons were initially moved online, and on April 19, the ministry signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Information to make classes available to students who do not have smartphones to access Distance Learning programmes via television, which it launched with newly established channel TVK2.

Students living in rural areas were told to access the channel via Decho TV (DTV) which is owned by Cambodian DTV Network Ltd, a subsidiary of the Thai Shin satellite company.

In its letter to the ministry on Tuesday, Cita said a reopening should be considered as the Kingdom had seen no new case of coronavirus infection over the last three weeks.

As of Wednesday, only two out of a total of 122 Covid-19 patients throughout the Kingdom remained hospitalised.

“The Covid-19 situation has not gotten worse over the past weeks. Therefore, the ministry should examine the possibility of reopening a number of schools in certain areas for students at all levels,” it said.

Cita said the ministry’s programmes could only reach students whose parents are better-off, but pose difficulties to poor students whose parents could barely make ends meet, especially those in rural areas.

It said most parents are also too busy making a living to tend to their children.

Ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said the Distance Learning Programme will continue despite the Covid-19 situation having improved, with no new case reported and nearly all patients having been cleared of the disease.

Echoing Chuon Naron, he said stakeholders including parents and students support the programme amid the closure, especially through the newly launched TV Broadcasting (TVK2), which he claimed benefitted those in urban and rural areas across the Kingdom.

“For the time being, please refer to the ministry’s April 24 directive on Distance Learning and E-Learning Programmes for students at kindergarten, elementary and secondary school levels,” he said.

However, Soveacha did not provide statistics as to how many households could access its programmes.

Svay Rieng provincial education department director Khieu Samol said the number of students in his province who could afford the ministry’s E-Learning Programme is low, with most opting for TVK2.

He said broadcast quality from the channel in some area is also poor.

Samol said home-based distance learning have also posed challenges to students whose learning could not be monitored. He said the TV broadcast also does not include all subjects, making it difficult for students to catch up with the curriculum.

“The ministry has already issued its guidelines. If students are not able to return to school anytime soon, they will see their school vacation duration reduced to a minimum so they have more time to catch up with the curriculum,” he said.

In an interview with The Post last week, Soveacha acknowledged the difficulties facing poor households. He said the ministry does not have any plan as yet to help students in rural areas to gain access to its learning programmes via smartphones or television.

“The ministry encourages students who cannot study through smartphones and television to learn with those who have such equipment.

“This means for families that do not have televisions yet, the ministry encourages them to follow the educational programmes at their neighbour’s houses with less than 10 people and practice hygiene measures in line with advice from the Ministry of Health,” he said.

Citing a 2008 census, Information and broadcasting director-general Phos Sovann said 2.4 million households have televisions in the Kingdom.

He said television channels are accessible via free to air, cable, or satellite dishes. However, the first two options are not available to rural areas and only satellite television is widely subscribed there.

Sovann also confirmed to The Post that televisions in rural areas “will not receive the educational programmes if the households have not installed the satellite dishes”.

On Monday, Minister of Health Mam Bunheng said school reopening is at the education ministry’s discretion.

Watch video: