Anxiety, optimism as Yangon students brace for schools to reopen

Photo: Peace Corps Myanmar / Courtesy
Photo: Peace Corps Myanmar / Courtesy

In normal times, Moe Pyae Pyae Thaw would be starting her final year of high school this month. Instead, she is feeling anxious and conflicted about whether to return when it and other schools reopen late next month.

Pyae Pyae, who is enrolled at Yangon’s No. 4 public high school in Ahlone Township, worries about the coronavirus that closed all schools; on the other hand, she doesn’t want to wait another year to finish.

“I want to go to college next year, so the reopening of the schools is somehow good, at least for me. I don’t want to wait for another year. It’s wasting time anyway,” she said.

Myanmar, which got a late start in detecting the virus and has since counted only 228 infections, announced that high school students will return to classrooms July 21 followed two weeks later by the lower levels at the recommendation of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Even though there will be precautions and restrictions in place at her school, Pyae Pyae is still not sure about going there every day as nothing is certain at the moment, and there will be lots of students. She said her mother’s as worried as she is.

Htet Nay Htun, another Grade 11 student-to-be at the Maha Mya Kywun Tha Private School, said he has no idea what his school is planning. But if his parents let him go when it’s open, he said that he will do as they say.

Reached for comment, his school principle described some of the measures being implemented.

“We’ve received the official letter from the Ministry of Education stating what needs to be prepared to reopen the schools and instructions for the preventing the virus transmitting among the students,” Daw Khin Yupar said. “Wash basins, six-foot-apart chairs, and so on. Although there’s no exact date when the schools have to start again, we’ve done some of the processes mentioned in the letter.”

While schools around the world grapple with when and how to reopen, Myanmar has decided to forge ahead.

The decision contrasts those elsewhere in ASEAN. Just last week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said schools there wouldn’t resume until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.

‘Just Play’: Duterte wants classes postponed until COVID-19 vax becomes available

When Paris schools reopened recently, the virus struck at least 70 primary school kids in the first week.

Naypyidaw announced the reopening at the recommendation of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. It came as some parts of Yangon have started to ease the weight of “stay-home” measures, such as in the Bahan, Tamwe, Pabedan, South Okkalapa townships, where measures have been put in place to control the spread of the virus.

Education Ministry officials met in the capital with representatives nationwide via video conference last week to iron out precautions.

Union Minister of Education Myo Thein Gyi said there would be no discrimination against any groups within the nation – and no one would be left behind. He said preventative measures issued by the Ministry of Health and Sports would be strictly followed.

“Since there are no signs of infection with the virus, they have to be carefully followed by the reopening of schools so that everyone can put a reusable face mask and reduce the number of daily encounters and so is the emergence of groups,” the minister said. “One person to another; students need to be at least 6 feet apart. Since the middle and upper classrooms are 30 x 24 feet per room, the seats should be at least 6 feet apart in classrooms.”

By grade level, some schools should reopen based on teacher-to-student ratios, with some being allowed to run on a weekly basis, while others must operate in shifts, opening and closing each week.

All schools nationwide must prepare further measures including supervising exams, distributing textbooks and placing monitoring stations at all 6,021 primary schools after disinfection is completed by June 15. Clean water, soap, hand sanitizers, thermometers and PPE suits must also be distributed. All students and teachers should have at least one face mask and face shield provided free of charge by the school.

“If anyone is found infected at the school, it will be ordered to close immediately and reorganized in accordance with the directives of the Ministry of Health,” Myo Thein Gyi said.

Meanwhile, some private schools last month jumped the gun by resuming coursework online, with students learning via video.

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