United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Monday noted that the MVR 8.4 million needed to reopen schools in Maldives are yet to be acquired.
During an interview given to local media Mihaaru, UNICEF's Resident Representative Dr Munir Safieldin said the organization would finance half of the funds required to operate schools for the first two months, following its slated reopening on July 1.
He stated that a total of MVR 322 million was required by the state to implement the Emergency Response Plan (ERP) formulated by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with UNICEF, adding that schools can only reopen and ensure the safety of its students after adequate finances are sourced.
"What I have to say to relevant institutions, that will finance the complete amount, is to prioritize [the field of] education. This is a sector directly related to the lives of students and the future of the country", said Dr Munir.
"We do not want Maldivian children to suffer and be negatively impacted".
The overall goal of the ERP is to " minimise the loss of learning for students, while simultaneously preventing the spread of COVID-19 from schools into local communities". As per the Health Protection Agency (HPA)'s guidelines, this means implementing appropriate measures in schools and conducting awareness activities.
Under the ERP, the ministry is currently procuring bottles of handwash and installing sinks to promote hand hygiene at schools.
Noting that studies conducted on past epidemics show that schools can be a major source of disease transmission, the ERP iterated that top priority must be given to the safety of students and the community. It states that therefore, schools will not reopen until public health experts are confident that it is safe to do so.
Praising government-led response against the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, Dr Munir noted the increasing budgetary requirements and the shutdown of tourism in the country as being the two main challenges faced by Maldives.
Referring to government-sanctioned budget cuts made for multiple institutions, Dr Munir further highlighted the importance of prioritizing children's education, even during such crises.
He also expressed satisfaction with Maldives' decision to resume educational institutions with respect to appropriate safety measures.
The incumbent Minister of Education Dr Aishath Ali, previously stated that 11,000 teachers would be trained to provide psychosocial support.
The closure of schools, universities and training facilities was one of the first measures implemented by the government after declaring a state of public health emergency on March 12 in response to a COVID-19 outbreak. A total lockdown across the Greater Male' Region was declared a month later on April 15.
During the shutdown, lessons were delivered via television programme 'Telekilaas' as well as online classes. While Telekilaas was shortly after halted for over a month, the authorities have resumed the programme again. The Education Ministry also established a portal named 'Filaa' to make digital content produced by teachers available to students.
However, after the authorities commenced the phased easing of lockdown restrictions on May 28, with the second phase beginning on June 15, the education ministry announced plans to reopen schools on July 1.
Making the announcement on June 16, Education Minister Dr Aishath Ali assured that precautionary measures will be in place to ensure the safety of students, teachers and other staff, and detailed the steps that will be implemented in the 'new normal' for schools.