Coronavirus: Six ways countries are sending students back to school amid COVID-19

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At the beginning of April, UNESCO reported that 91.2 percent of pupils around the world were out of school due to the coronavirus. As the pandemic spread, so did a wave of homeschooling and online learning.

But now, as lockdowns have eased around the world and school terms are beginning again, many students are returning to the classroom.

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However, while some countries have reopened schools with health guidelines in place, others are taking a more conservative approach, meaning students will continue to study from home.

Here’s a look at how six countries have taken different approaches to keep their students safe during COVID-19.

UAE: Back to school

In-class learning in the UAE resumed this week and last with a strict checklist of precautions to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in schools, nurseries and universities.

There will be temperature checks each morning for both teachers and students, frequent sterilization of classrooms and limitations on parents coming to collect their children.

In addition, staff will not be allowed to leave the premises during the daytime except for in emergencies and, if they do have to leave, all clothing must be completely sterilized before they return.

While many parents welcomed the return of schools in the country, a group of schools was forced to shut this week after suspected cases of coronavirus were detected among some employees, authorities announced on Tuesday.

Parents wearing protective masks and their children leave a school they found closed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, after arriving to register for the new academic year, in Sharjah. (File photo: Reuters)
Parents wearing protective masks and their children leave a school they found closed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, after arriving to register for the new academic year, in Sharjah. (File photo: Reuters)

Read more: Coronavirus: UAE closes some schools after suspect cases of COVID-19

US: State-by-state approach

The reopening of schools in the US varies by state, despite pressure from US President Donald Trump for schools to open their doors this Autumn.

For schools that are reopening, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended increased hygiene measures and social distancing. The organization also suggests face masks are worn in circumstances wherein social distancing cannot be maintained. However, masks have not been made mandatory.

The government has also suggested that parents are free to choose whether or not to send their children back to school once they do reopen.

“If you want or need to send your child to school in-person, we support you. If virtual learning is best for your family, we support you,” said US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos on Twitter.

Read more: Coronavirus: Trump says government will provide 125 million masks to US schools

UK: Back to school with “bubbles”

Plans for the return to school have varied in different countries of the United Kingdom. In England, some primary school year groups went back to school on 1 June for a few weeks, followed by select secondary school students on 15 July, before closing again for the summer holidays.

All years return to school this week with the essential measures of increased classroom cleaning and proper provision for frequent handwashing. Depending on the space available, schools are encouraged to create ‘bubbles’ to prevent pupils from coming into contact with lots of people.

In Scotland schools reopened on August 11, but new legislation that came into effect this week has made face masks mandatory for pupils and teachers moving about school premises and on school transport. However, pupils will not be required to wear them in class.

“The chances of children catching COVID and then getting long-term serious problems as a result of it solely due to going to school are incredibly small; the chances of many children being damaged by not going to school are incredibly clear,” said the UK’s chief medical officer, Chris Witty.

Children use hoops amid the coronavirus pandemic at a school in Fulham, London. (File photo: Reuters)
Children use hoops amid the coronavirus pandemic at a school in Fulham, London. (File photo: Reuters)

Kenya: Schools staying shut

Unlike many countries globally, schools in Kenya will not be reopening until January 2021 at the earliest.

When Kenya first closed its schools at the beginning of the pandemic, some students were taking classes online but not everyone had access to good enough internet. To get round the problem, the government decided to cancel the entire academic year to try to level the playing field.

The consequences of reopening schools in less developed countries may be different from more advanced nations. “In developing countries, adults and the elderly generally have more contact with children than those in advanced economies due to factors such as more crowded living conditions and bigger households,” wrote David Lagakos for the World Economic Forum.

Read more: Amid coronavirus, Kenyan women risk their lives to give birth

Sweden: Schools never closed

Sweden’s approach to coronavirus differed substantially from most of its European neighbors as it did not impose a lockdown, but instead encouraged its population to follow voluntary lockdown and distancing measures.

This means that while schools were closing around the world, the Scandinavian country kept its educational institutions open. This decision did not lead to a higher infection rate compared with neighboring Finland, where schools were closed for lockdown, according to a report conducted jointly by the two countries’ public health ministries.

Schools are encouraged to increase hygiene measures for individuals and on the premises, as well as limiting large in-school gatherings like assemblies. Responsibility for handling any COVID-19 outbreaks lies with local authorities.

Read more: Coronavirus lockdowns unproven, politically dangerous and hard to exit: Expert

Saudi Arabia: Online teaching, for now

The first seven weeks of the new academic year in Saudi Arabia will be taught online with the physical reopening of schools to be reviewed later on in the term. The e-school day begins with singing the national anthem and some physical exercise, before students access their lessons.

Saudi education minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al Al-Sheikh considers online schooling to have potential as more than just a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Electronic learning after the coronavirus crisis will not be the same as it was before especially with the accelerated global trend towards e-learning and its technologies as a future option, and not just an alternative during exceptional circumstances,” Al Al-Sheikh was quoted as saying by the Saudi Press Agency.

Read more: Distance learning could be strategic choice post-coronavirus crisis: Saudi minister

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