September 11th, 2020 - 8:00 PM
As per the unlocking plans announced by the authorities, we confirm that RTC will be reopening for scheduled on-campus classes from next week. Regular academic timings will resume from Monday 14th Sept, along with the resumption of face-to-face classes and all other protocols that were in place as of August 10th, immediately before the lockdown. In this regard the following dates and guidelines for reopening may kindly be kept in mind:
- September 12-13-- Boarder students, including Nursing, that were off-campus should return to residence halls.
- September 14-15 -- Upper-year students resume classes (September 14th for third-year students and September 15th for second-year students; all programmes besides Nursing).
- September 14-15 -- First-year students resume classes (September 14th for all BA programme students and September 15th for all Business and BSc Env Mgt students).
- September 14-15 -- BSc Nursing and Midwifery students resume classes (September 14th for all upper-year students and September 15th for all first-year students).
I would like to emphasize once more that our health and safety protocols are important and should continue to be observed seriously. The most visible of these is distancing and wearing masks: these are required at all times around common areas on campus except while eating.
Some movements will remain restricted outside of the normal day timings: The entry and exit of resident students at the main gate will be restricted from 6:30 pm daily. Day scholar students in full-time programmes should exit by this time, and CE students should exit by 8:15 pm. Day students and others are not allowed into the residence hall premises under any circumstances. Boarders inviting or hosting them will be held accountable.
I wish everyone the best in the days ahead and I look forward to seeing everyone around campus again soon.
Pema C. Wangdi
September 6th, 2020 - 3:00 PM
The nationwide unlocking plans announced by the government are underway, but will roll out a bit differently for our campus, keeping the principles of safety and risk minimization in mind. We will await the final clearance to resume regular classes, and until then continue with our movement restrictions for the safety and well-being of all. We will have our own phased unlocking that remains slightly behind the wider Thimphu unlocking phases, as detailed below.
We have been fortunate to have gotten our semester underway before the nationwide lockdown took effect. It would have been quite difficult to start the semester under lockdown conditions, and the inevitably extended time until semester closing would have been undesirable for all. Due to your cooperation, we are in a relatively good position with regard to the progress this semester. Thank you once more for your perseverance and commitment to excellence even under these unfamiliar circumstances as we implement the new normal.
Why we do not open up all at once, like all non-academic organizations will be doing: We are still in the midst of a pandemic with continued cases being detected occasionally within Bhutan. We have a relatively large campus community that includes nearly 600 students and 100 others. This represents a population vulnerable to pandemic spread, but we have been able to ensure the health and safety and minimize risks to all of ourselves and our own separate communities (whether on- or off-campus) by maintaining a sort of ‘bubble’ at the campus (with student ‘pods’ and sub-communities as well). There is a clear benefit of health risk reduction that comes from community isolation, and until the government gives a green light for resumption of face-to-face classes, there is not much advantage to opening our offices fully (nor allowing free movement of campus students and staff into and out of campus) and disrupting the campus bubble.
What we’re going to do: While we await the final go-ahead for ‘campus reopening’ from the government, we will continue to minimize movements into and out of the campus. Most movements will remain restricted while allowing a small volume of essential traffic through initially, and this will gradually open up in the phases detailed below.
RTC unlocking phases - September 2020
Phase RTC-1 (Sept 7th onwards):
- Students off-campus (and the off-campus parents/guests of on-campus students) will continue to not be allowed in, and those on-campus residential students that need to exit may do so, but may not return until the later phase of campus reopening (except those that are escorted off and back for routine hospital visits).
- Taxis or other unauthorised private vehicles including online shopping deliveries will not be allowed beyond the College gate.
- On-campus resident staff and their dependents will limit their passages to essential movements within walking distance, and will not have external visitors. Off-campus staff will mostly continue in the remote-working mode except as required for essential campus operations.
Phase RTC-2 (Tentatively anticipated after one week; will depend on local and national situation)
- Students off-campus (and the off-campus parents/guests of on-campus students) will continue to not be allowed in, and those on-campus residential students that need to exit may do so but not return until the later phase of campus reopening (except those that are escorted off and back for routine hospital visits).
- Taxis or other unauthorised private vehicles including online shopping deliveries will not be allowed beyond the College gate.
- On-campus resident staff and their dependents will be allowed to commute off-campus but will be required to restrict interactions with students. Off-campus staff will resume office work on campus. General health protocols in place before the lockdown will be in effect. Such staff will avoid interactions with students, and not venture up further than the academic area.
Phase RTC-3: (Tentatively anticipated after two weeks; will depend on local and national situation)
- Face-to-face classes will resume as per the ‘Plan A’ that was in place immediately before the lockdown (50/50 hybrid mode), with de-densification of the academic areas.
- Taxis or other unauthorised private vehicles including online shopping deliveries will still not be allowed beyond the College gate.
- Student movements will resume in both directions, into and out of campus as per the gate timings and protocols in place immediately before the lockdown. Parents may visit by permission.
- On-campus resident staff and dependents may move in and out of campus as per the gate timings and protocols in place immediately before the lockdown. Non-resident guests will require permission to be brought in if exceeding the normal gate timings. Off-campus staff may move in and out of campus as per the gate timings and protocols in place immediately before the lockdown.
September 2nd, 2020 - 12:30 PM
Lockdown easing in September
As announced by the PM on August 31st, specific reopening plans for schools and colleges will be conveyed in the next 10 days, after which there could be a return to some in-person classes.
- With the nationwide lockdown from August 11th, the College pivoted to fully online remote teaching-learning starting Monday August 17th. Classes are going on regularly through both live (synchronous) and pre-recorded (asynchronous) lectures and continuous online activities through the Virtual Learning Environment.
- The strong efforts made by the community in engaging the new first-year students thoroughly for general orientation and e-learning orientation undoubtedly mitigated the challenges these students would face moving to fully remote learning.
- The preparations for the original hybrid (50/50) mode plan for August (Plan ‘A’ - a mix of in-person and online classes) also helped smoothen the transition to the fully online mode (the current Plan ‘B’). We may all be proud of our work in ensuring our students’ learning continuity and we feel blessed to have been able to make the progress we have thus far.
- Unlike the Spring semester’s situation, the challenges were heightened due to the lockdown conditions. Everyone would have been well within their rights to feel extra anxiety, powerlessness, and stress. We are grateful to the programme leaders, subject coordinators, module coordinator, and our AAD staff / academic support teams and the quickly commissioned PL Assistants for helping get the academics reorganized so efficiently.
- Monitoring on the VLE, through PLs, assistants, and regular self-reporting all indicate that tutors have mostly spared no efforts to keep the learning on track from their side. Tracking issues related to teaching-learning for specific follow-ups is now a regular feature of each programme’s operation.
- Programme-wise and College Academic Committee meetings have convened frequently (almost weekly) to ensure proper coordination for academic delivery. A ‘year-guide’ system was instituted to provide a consistent point of information sharing, support, and monitoring for first-year student sections. Monitoring data so far suggest that most students are attending classes and completing assigned tasks.
- Once fresh government guidance is received, the plan for the rest of the semester will be instituted. If the guidance in Thimphu is the same as they were pre-lockdown, plan ‘A’ will resume. The College will continue to evaluate the 50/50 mode and adjust the proportion of in-person vs. online classes to maximize effectiveness within what is safely permissible.
- Students who were boarders (except the upper-year Nursing students who are on a slightly different calendar) largely reported to campus right before the lockdown. Approximately 566 boarding students have been accommodated on campus, forming the bulk of the ~700 person campus community besides staff and dependents. The Student Services staff provided exemplary supervision and care during the lockdown, having to remain active nearly 24/7 during the initial days. The student Residence Assistants also took on a plethora of additional duties in helping their fellow residents stay healthy and safe during this time.
- All students and parents/guardians were emailed updates on the campus happenings and plans by August 11th evening. The health and safety protocols that were already in place have continued and the community has cooperated in following these strictly. All individuals wear masks outside their residences, maintain distancing, and remain at the residences except for essential purposes, including student dining. Dining shifts for three meals daily were highly staggered to minimize any crowding, and were done in a residence-wise manner to maintain existing social bubbles.
- Dining operations on campus were immediately supported to ensure a regular supply chain of the same quality of meals expected during any normal circumstances. The variety of food including vegetables and meat items that initially depleted was replenished and continues to be supplied twice per week through various supply chains.
- The security perimeter has been maintained securely for the safety and wellbeing of the residents.
- A few campus individuals with some travel from Gelephu / Phuentsholing prior to the lockdown were traced and tested; all were negative.
- Individuals with other health concerns are regularly attended to by the on-campus Nurse. Dozens of minor cases are seen daily, and hospital trips are arranged where necessary. Telemedicine for the students is being done wherein the College Nurse assists the students in calling OPD, and relevant medicines are delivered. In addition, correspondence with the health official of the nearest health center, Changjiji Satellite BHU, is done on a daily basis regarding various health issues.
- Counselling support continues to be provided by the College counsellor in a virtual mode.
- The campus convenience store reopened at the end of the second week for the benefit of the campus residents to easily obtain their basic necessities. Meanwhile, many have availed the officially approved delivery services for delivery of goods from Thimphu. RTC is an alcohol- and tobacco-free zone and student packages are screened for such substances.
- At the end of the second week of lockdown, the Ministry of Health communicated its approval for institutes that are isolated and in their own ‘bubble’ to allow greater mobility for students around campus, including engaging in physical activities such as sports/games for their overall well-being.
Administration and Human Resources
- Towards the end of the first week of lockdown, the option for vegetable purchases from the campus’ dining hall supplier was instituted, and deliveries were also possible by the authorized retailers.
- Estate maintenance, cleaning works and garbage collection continued in a limited manner during the lockdown period within the health and safety protocols.
Information Technology Support
- Key IT staff were stationed on campus and have resided here to take care of critical IT needs.
- Our leased line subscription for the campus internet connectivity is 1 Gigabit till the Telecoms exchange point, which is connected with caches that help keep most download traffic relatively local (Google, Facebook, Akamai -- which caches things like Apple and Microsoft updates). Beyond that, we have a 105 Mbps international transit subscription, among the highest in Bhutan. So far, these have not been found to be bottlenecks as in themselves, while significant spot troubleshooting and strengthening has been happening constantly around campus.
- All off-campus students were provided mobile data recharges for their academic use.
- For those on-campus, the infrastructure has been strengthened to provide half the rooms on campus with in-room wifi access points. The remaining are taken care of with a combination of the wired connection in each room and additional shared wifi access points. Desktop computers are also available in all the Common Rooms.
- Meanwhile, IT staff are tending to students and faculty's own device issues related to software, hardware, and connectivity. Whatever similar service and guidance that can be provided to those off-campus also continues.
- End-user experiences off-campus have been variable in a few cases. These are being looked into individually, but don't have a bearing on any changes we can do on campus at this stage. Remote access to users’ own desktop computers has been implemented.
- Recognizing the importance of redundant access to key online resources, the major storage repository for rtcCloud was mirrored to two cloud storage providers (Google Shared Drive and Microsoft OneDrive) and kept synchronized hourly.
- Microsoft Office365 basic was rolled out to all college community members to provide additional online tools in the Microsoft ecosystem (including Word, Excel, and Powerpoint online), especially for those that did not have access to such software.
- To help all users remain within reasonable data consumption, a guideline on compressing videos to significantly reduce file sizes was shared with the tutors. This should help the content creators keep their posted videos smaller in size for easier download and sharing.
Development and External Relations
- Planned trainings could not be held as scheduled for the wider community; these will be postponed until it is safe and clear to conduct them.
- Although it is not possible to implement international exchange programmes within 2020, the planning continues for 2021 and beyond. Several new mobility projects have been successfully awarded, and both students and staff will again have opportunities for international mobilities for engagement within their disciplines around the world once travel is reliable and safe.
- The College has been awarded a large Erasmus+ capacity building grant as part of a consortium of 7 institutions, 3 in Europe and 4 in Bhutan, to develop Qualitative Research capacity and training within colleges in Bhutan. The project was conceptualized and initiated by team members from RTC from the DERD as well as academic colleagues in the Social Sciences. The College has also been awarded Erasmus+ capacity building grants as part of two additional consortia projects, both related to building entrepreneurship and innovation capacity. These three projects will initiate towards the end of 2020/early 2021 and engage the college community for multiple years.
August 11th, 2020 - 6:00 PM
The government announced a nationwide lockdown this morning to allow time for thorough contact tracing of the one reported positive COVID19 case detected in Gelephu. The press release from the Prime Minister’s Office is attached. We remain grateful for the tireless efforts of His Majesty and the government towards keeping us all safe.
The College was informed early this morning directly from the Thimphu Dzongkhag Task Force, and there remains a direct channel with these authorities for all necessary coordination. We are asked to keep the campus closed, meaning no in-or-out movement of persons beyond the college boundaries. Residents on campus are asked to minimize non-essential movements and contacts.
The College has been preparing for such a contingency -- this has been possible through the adaptability and hard work of the students, and kind cooperation and understanding from the parents throughout the past several months. Thank you for all your diligence on the tight timeframes that we had kept, which allowed the past semester to conclude successfully -- your efforts are deeply appreciated. We are indeed fortunate in that way, and we were also able to get good basic e-learning orientation completed for the new first-year students. We remain hopeful that the lockdown will resolve in the coming days and we could resume face-to-face classes once the lockdown lifts, but will be prepared for alternatives nonetheless. Our plans will continue to evolve as we get further guidance from the authorities.
We will hold off this week on most non-essential activities including the teaching-learning while we take stock and firm up our contingency plans. Please take care of yourselves and let the relevant college officials know if you need any help. We do not expect any teaching-learning activities to continue (even online) this week, unless there is a major change in the lockdown status. We plan that the online teaching will resume from the coming Monday (August 17) in case the physical lockdown has not ended by then.
For this week, the health and safety of the College community members will be the first priority. Our health and safety protocols were developed and implemented since early July when students returned to campus to complete the prior semester exams. We were pleased to welcome Her Excellency the Health Minister to campus last week for a talk with some of our first-year students and a tour around the campus. We are confident that the facilities and protocols in place meet the requirements of the health and education ministries for educational institutions.
For now, students on-campus are asked to remain in their rooms except for meals and for use of the common bathrooms in the coming days until there is greater clarity on the situation. A staggered dining hall plan (for residence-wise meals) has been implemented from lunch-time today. Students will be provided with all essential care and services by the student services team on-campus. Sports and other campus life activities are temporarily suspended.
Students on campus should minimize non-essential movements and contacts. Avoid gatherings, wear face masks outside your residence, wash hands frequently, and use Druk Trace app at all designated posts.
August 11th, 2020 - 6:30 AM
The notice on reported positive COVID-19 case was posted a few hours ago (positive in Gelephu with contacts in Thimphu). The College was recently informed of the requirement to follow the lockdown protocol along with the rest of the nation. The government has been preparing for this and one of the first steps is for schools / institutes / colleges to remain closed. There should be no reason for alarm, as the approach is highly precautionary. However, this is a reminder to strictly follow the health and safety protocols. On-campus residents: please check the Campus Guidelines for general health and safety guidance. Reminder, your contact points are: # 17581088 (College Nurse, Ms. Deepanjali Dewan) and #77775557 (Counselor Ms. Tenzing Choden).
The District Education Officer, Thimphu, has informed that for RTC, this means the movement in and out of the gate is stopped, so students/staff on-campus should not exit, and any students/staff off-campus should not enter. Specific advice for on-campus movements will be forthcoming, but for now, there should only be minimal movements with strict distancing and health/safety protocols (masks, hand-washing, no gatherings). This would be particularly applicable for students going to and from the dining facilities. Again, there is no reason for panic, and we expect all our boarding students to be able to handle this challenging circumstance.
Face-to-face classes are suspended until further notice. Preparation for online teaching-learning is continuing and this would resume after we can take stock of the national situation and the local situation in Thimphu. The Prime Minister's briefing is scheduled for 7AM. The RTC President will have further notices to our community throughout the day.