Getting children safely back to school in Covid-19 times

Schools around the world are starting to reopen after months of closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

All over the world, restrictions were set in place to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. In many countries, schools were shut down and, where possible, virtual classes were conducted.

Now that some countries are getting the pandemic under control and the numbers of cases are dropping, governments are looking at the steps that need to be taken to reopen schools.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (Unesco) framework advises that schools only reopen with clear physical distancing measures in place.

This includes not allowing activities that require large gatherings; staggering the start and end of the school day and break times; and giving lessons in shifts to reduce class sizes.

Schools must also put hygiene measures in place and clear SOPs should be set out in case a student or staff member becomes unwell.

Malaysia

Malaysian schools have already opened their doors to students. All schools followed one of three models laid out by the Ministry of Education (MOE).

In addition, students, teachers and staff must follow the SOPs issued by the MOE, including maintaining a one-metre distance from each other and daily temperature checks for all who wish to enter the school.

If the temperature is higher than 37.5ºC, or the person displays symptoms of Covid-19, they will not be allowed to enter the school premises.

Singapore

Singapore was one of the last countries to shut its schools and they were closed for just over a month, reopening in mid-May.

Phase 1 was implemented towards the end of Singapore’s Covid-19 circuit breaker, which allowed schools to have up to 50% of students in school at any one time.

Currently, in Phase 2, all students can attend school every day, provided they remain one metre apart, and staff and students must wear masks or face shields apart from daily temperature checks.

Desks are spaced one metre apart and facing forward and there is a one-way system in the corridors to minimise contact.

Schools have also gradually been allowed to run more group activities and games that involve minimal physical contact.

As at July 27, the Singapore government had allowed secondary schools to resume low-risk co-curricular activities such as badminton, tennis, basketball and computer clubs.

Vietnam

In Vietnam, there was a phased reopening of schools according to location from early May. High schools and secondary schools reopened first, followed by primary schools and kindergartens.

Just like Malaysia, all students, teachers and staff must wear a face mask or face shield and have their temperature checked daily at the school entrance.

Lessons have resumed as close to normal as possible. Some changes were made, such as stopping the sharing of equipment during physical education and games.

All equipment and other items around the school are disinfected regularly throughout the day.

Desks in classrooms and school canteens have been arranged to ensure social distancing is maintained and students have rotated lunch breaks.

Large group gatherings, such as school assemblies and team sports and competitions remain cancelled.

Throughout the school day, teachers remind students to wash their hands regularly and maintain social distancing.

The UK government is preparing guidelines to open schools in September. (Rawpixel pic)

The UK

In the UK, the government issued a document titled “Guidance for full opening: schools” on July 2.

The document noted the requirements for all schools and nurseries to adhere to as they reopen in September. The safety measures include:

  • A requirement that those who are sick stay home.
  • Maintaining robust hand and respiratory hygiene.
  • Increased cleaning procedures.
  • Active engagement with the National Health Service Test and Trace app.
  • Formal consideration of how to reduce contact and maximise distancing between those in school wherever possible and minimise the potential for contamination so far as is reasonably practicable

However, unlike in most countries, in the UK, face masks have only recently been made mandatory in indoor public spaces and, currently, they are not required in schools.

It is widely accepted that learning in a school setting is crucial for children. While virtual classes and learning with online applications such as Zoom or Google Meet have solved some issues, nothing beats physical face-to-face interaction.

Only time will tell if all countries are able to successfully reopen all education institutions, but one thing is certain, good hygiene must be a concept understood and taken seriously by all children for their own safety.

Schooladvisor.my provides information on private and international schools, extra-curricular activities as well as other education-related topics in Malaysia.

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