[Opinion] Coronavirus: Returning to School This Year Will Feel Different
“Please, put on your face mask properly,” the teacher instructs a student.
“Sit in your own desk and stop moving around the classroom,” he pleads with another student. “Jayden pulled off my face mask,” complains Jamal.
Interestingly, the above classroom drama is ‘predicted’ to take over the teaching and learning process in our schools (especially elementary schools) as teachers and students return to in-person classes this academic year.
As a teacher, parent, community activist cum social commentator, I have been looking at the failures as well as the challenges facing countries in reopening schools safely for their students and teachers during this pandemic era.
Around the world, countries are debating what to do about schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. In many places, they’ve been shut. In some they’ve reopened and shut again! For example, more than 100 schools and daycare centres have been closed again in Israel about three weeks after they reopened due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the country.
In Queensland, Australia two schools are closed and teacher anxiety levels are skyrocketing after three confirmed cases of COVID-19 rocked communities south of Brisbane as there is spike in the pandemic in that nation.
According to Bloomberg (July 10, 2020), “Hong Kong Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung says high schools, primary schools and kindergartens will be closed again and start summer holiday earlier….”. News reports have it further that elementary and middle schools across Hong Kong are starting their summer vacations early amid an alarming resurgence of COVID-19 cases.
Teachers and support staff at more than 35 school districts across the United States have recently staged protests over plans to resume in-class instruction while COVID-19 is surging in many parts of the country.
In Denmark, which started reopening schools in mid-April, classes are being held outside, such as in parks, as much as possible.
Final year students of Ghana’s Secondary Schools, Colleges and Universities are back to the classroom preparing for their examinations. Concerns have been raised about the final year students’ return to the classroom but the Chairman of Risk Communication and Social Mobilization Committee for Ghana’s COVID-19 Response Team, Dr. Dacosta Aboagye says, “Senior High School students who are currently preparing for their final exams are well secured in their various schools.” He claims the school is “safer” than allowing the students to be in their various communities or home.
The above paragraphs show the picture of how some countries around the world are handling their schools during this pandemic. Going back to school feel different!
According to UNICEF, given the difficulty of the situation (the pandemic) and variation across the globe, countries are in different stages regarding how and when they plan to reopen schools. These decisions will usually be made by national or state governments, often in discussion with local authorities.
They will have to consider public health, the benefits and risks for education and other factors.
Canada as a country is considering reopening its schools for the 2020/2021 academic year. However, the safe reopening of schools has brought up what feels like a string of unanswerable questions, for parents, teachers and school boards alike. Most Canadian provinces have announced they’re returning to full-time, in-person school for elementary kids without reducing class sizes at all.
How prepared are the two million or so students who attend-publicly funded schools in Ontario to adjust to a new reality, as COVID-19 safety measures will make for a new kind of learning experience?
Are our vulnerable or at-risk students going to be taken full care of during the new kind of learning experience?
Is the government prepared to provide more money for everything from custodians to personal protective equipment and smaller classes when schools reopen?
As many parents are uncertain about how safe schools are for their children to return to, some parents have opted for homeschooling to mitigate the effect on their children’s education. But many are quickly realising that this is not as easy as they anticipated, despite receiving support from schools to facilitate homeschooling. The parents have to go to work and their best option is to send their children back to school.
However, returning to school this academic year will feel different.