Sri Lanka to open schools for all grades as doctors warn of increasing screen addiction

ECONOMYNEXT –Sri Lanka will reopen schools for students in all grades starting next week as 70% of pupils grades 11 to 13 have been vaccinated, a minister said, as health officials implored parents to send their increasingly screen-addicted children back to school.

Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told parliament on Monday (15) that 240,000 teachers are also fully vaccinated.

“Next week, we are opening schools for other grades. Irrespective of political priorities, it is our children who need to go to school and go through the education system to climb the ladder of life,” he said.

With health authorities relaxing COVID-19 travel restrictions in October, the education ministry opened government schools for primary graders and students in the GCE Ordinary and Advance level classes., while continuing the vaccination of all students from the age of 16 to 19.

Ministry of Education, Additional Secretary (School Affairs), L M D Dharmasena last week said 73 percent of the total students aged 16 to19 had also been vaccinated.

“Out of 994,515, we have vaccinated 730,810 so far with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Another 263,705 have yet to get it,” Dharmasena told reporters on Friday (12).

“Contrary to what many seem to think, we have taken a decision not to close schools again,” he said.

Meanwhile, health officials showed that the vaccination and opening of schools must be considered as two different operations because education cannot be postponed until the country is fully vaccinated.

“The vaccination of children aged 12 to 19 with medical needs has been completed successfully. We have jabbed more than 22,000 children who have other medical conditions. No major side effects have been observed. We have now started the second jab,” Consultant Paediatrician  Prof Shaman Rajindrajith told reporters last week.

“We can fully vaccinate them in the near future. If someone missed getting the first dose, it is not too late yet to get the second jab. Go to the nearest hospital and take the shot.”

Rajindrajith said the final report on vaccinating children aged 12 to 15 is being put together and for the perusal of the health ministry in order to take further decisions.

“Another question that we get is why we are opening schools for the primary graders when we have vaccinated secondary grade students,” Rajindrajith said.

“We have always said vaccination and opening of schools should be two different things, because the transmissibility of COVID-19 among children is very low. Transmissibility from a child to an adult is also low.”

The official said that if students were trained to follow a hygiene regime under teacher supervision, schools can successfully be kept safe from the virus.

Rajindrajith said though it cannot be determined exactly whether there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases among children, data from some hospitals suggests a high number.

“We need to be cautious. But that does not mean children shouldn’t go to school. We have to teach them how to protect themselves and follow health guidelines,” he said.

Though COVID-19 among children has not reached a critical stage, their education has, the official said.

“Children are addicted to phones and other things. So we need to find a way to open schools while protecting our children.”

Commenting on the increase number of admissions at the Lady Ridgway Children’s Hospital (LRCH), hospital director Dr G Wijesuriya said most children are being admitted due to mental health issues.

“Most children came to hospital with various psychological disorders. Since they have not been going to school, these children have gotten addicted to phones, laptops and other devices which has weakened them mentally,” Wijesuriya told reporters last week.

“We have received reports of children getting into unethical things and some have even tried to commit suicide as well. I ask parents to send their children to school. Teach them the health guidelines to protect them, and get them out of stress they are under,” he said. (Colombo/Nov15/2021)

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