Test-isolate-test contacts, but keep schools open

Saturday, 20 November 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Government needs to purchase low-cost test kits and make them available to schools immediately if we are to keep the schools open – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara


Researchers at IPS published a comprehensive Op-Ed titled ‘Reopening schools in new normal: Key focus areas for Sri Lanka’. Unfortunately, it misses the key point that the Government needs to purchase low-cost test kits and make them available to schools immediately if we are to keep the schools open. 

In a context where the Government seems to be looking at closing schools once again in a typical knee-jerk reaction, we wish to reiterate the recommendations made by the Education Forum Sri Lanka in a press release early this month.

Perils of keeping schools closed are now universally acknowledged. In fact, the Worldwide Commission to Educate All Kids (post-pandemic) is calling for an international treaty that would be binding on countries to not close schools except during extreme natural disasters or war.

Countries around the world have reopened schools after 20 months but the challenge of keeping them open remains. After evaluating the strategies adopted by countries across the world, we propose the following set of actions for the Government of Sri Lanka.

1. To minimise infections:

  • Complete vaccinating all eligible children, teachers, and other adults in schools
  • Continue to emphasise sanitation and distancing requirements
  • Make available stocks of low-cost, rapid antigen test kits for self-testing
  • Allow school-level decision making with oversight by the divisional Medical Officer of Health (MoH)

Many countries like India, Singapore, the UK, Israel and Canada are routinely using self-test antigen kits. Usually, these are given by the school, and stocks are replenished as and when they finish. An antigen test kit can be bought at drug stores in Singapore for about two SGD (Rs. 300), and in India, they are even cheaper.

Admittedly antigen tests show varying levels of sensitivity, but combined with other observations, self-test kits provide a strong safeguard against the spread of infections.  

2.To let children continue learning:

  • Postpone examinations and tests for all but a few core subjects
  • Give teachers the freedom to teach other subjects through activities in open spaces
  • Advocate holding classes in open and/or ventilated spaces

(Core subjects can be limited to languages and mathematics since a certain level of literacy and numeracy suitable for each stage of learning is essential for learning other subjects.)

3.If one or more student is infected:

  • Isolate the student but do not close the school
  • Trace his/her contacts and test them immediately, and follow-up with regular tests
  • Allow anyone who tests negative to remain in school

4.If a parent/close contact is positive:

  • Allow child to attend school if he/she tests negative
  • Keep testing for one to two weeks or as prescribed by the MoH in the area. 
  • Sri Lanka should study what’s happening in other countries and ensure that our children are not subjected to any more school closures.


(The writers are Co-Coordinators, Education Forum Sri Lanka.)


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