The government of the Lao PDR and UNICEF are working together to ensure all children return safely back to school after more than two months of closures
(KPL) Children in the Lao PDR returned safely back to school this week. Schools in the country were closed for over 8 weeks as part of Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With Safe School guidelines in place, the decision to reopen schools was jointly made by the National Taskforce, Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES) and the Ministry of Health for Covid-19, with support from key partners such as UNICEF.
“We urge all parents and caregivers to send their children back to school and teachers to support students,” said Assoc. Prof. Kongsy Sengmany, Deputy Minister of Education and Sports.. “It is important for parents to ensure the children know measures such as handwashing with soap, social distancing, wearing masks, etc. to protect them from the dangers of COVID-19,” he further added.
Meanwhile, the government is ensuring it is safe to return to school, by putting in place protocols and clear guidance.
The guidance provided to schools also recognizes that not all schools have the facilities available just yet to follow the protocols exactly. Where this is the case, guidance is also provided on what other options are available. No matter what the situation, no child should be prevented from returning back to school during this time.
At the media conference organized at Don Chan Palace hotel, Vientiane today, representatives from MOES informed that safety measures are in place in schools based on protocols from the National Task Force and MoES.
These are based on the global Safe School Operations Guidelines, adapted to the Lao PDR with the support of UNICEF, and the Framework for Reopening Schools recently released by UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP and the World Bank. The ministry also directed schools to follow and monitor safe school operations.
Similarly, schools should play a vital role to prevent stigma and discrimination that may surface during the pandemic, as well as provide mental and psychosocial support to students, teachers and education staff. The Lao Women’s Union and Lao Youth Union have hotlines aimed at young people, which provide professional counselling to help them cope with stress.
Addressing the media briefing, Mr. Savankhone Razmountry, Deputy Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism said: “Mass media plays an important role in raising awareness of COVID-19 as well as updates on the global and local situation and the government instructions. Through all media outlets, we also provide information on how people could protect themselves and their families from Covid19”.
“This is a new time for us all and we are all learning to adapt to the new normal,” said Ms. Beate Dastel, UNICEF Representative, a.i. “It is important to make sure that all children are able to access their education, as well as to encourage children to talk about their feelings and emotions.”
Schools all around the country are currently being cleaned and disinfected regularly and handwashing stations are being installed. During Phase I of the reopening of schools, children from grades 9, 10 and 12 returned to school on 18 May. On 2 June, based on the Prime Minister’s Order Number 597, the MoES and other sectors were authorized to have schools and academic institutions under their supervision to reopen the classrooms for childcare and kindergarten, and the remaining primary and secondary education grades. Final year students of vocational colleges, pedagogy colleges and universities also went back to school, with the remaining classes set to resume from 15 June 2020.
During the school closures, the strong partnership between the government and various development partners including INGOs, which was formed since day one, ensured that no child should be deprived of education. The Ministry of Education with the support of UNICEF and other partners launched an education television programme shown on national TV as well as a dedicated Education and Sport satellite TV channel.
Likewise, UNICEF reran episodes of “My Village”, a television show for young Lao children to provide the basic knowledge and skills that will help the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of all children including girls, boys, ethnic and disabled children.
UNICEF also created a hub of learning information on its website, including activities, videos and photos, materials for teachers and parents to support learning at home, and supported MoES to develop an Education COVID-19 Response Plan, which has been used to guide various interventions to mitigate the impact of the pandemic in the sector.