Reopening Education Careful Planning Is Essential

Dr. Md. Enamul Hoque

16 November 2020


The pandemic is not over yet; so, the risk of contracting the virus still exists. If any student goes to the campus carrying the virus infection unknowingly, the virus will be spread to many people. Therefore, reopening of the schools are not limited to the learners only, it involves coming out of the house of hundreds of thousands of parents, and huge number of teachers and staff. Additionally, an increased number of transports and vehicles will move on the streets which will obviously increase the risk of COVID-19 Transmission in the community.
Amid fears of a second wave of corona virus infections during the coming winter, the government has extended the closure of all academic institutes till 19 December 2020. The decision is apparently wise and proactive. Because "Science, not emotion" must force decisions about how and when to reopen schools.
The government must not decide to reopen the school impractically without taking sufficient pre-caution measures. If the government plans to reopen the schools at the beginning of 2021, they should start all preparatory works right at this moment. We must remember that before reopening the schools, careful planning is essential from all authorities concerned. The schools should be well-prepared to re-arrange their infrastructure and classroom setting. The authorities should look at opportunities to improve hygiene measures, including hand-washing, respiratory etiquette, i.e., coughing and sneezing into the elbow, physical distancing measures, and cleaning procedures for facilities for students, teachers and other staff.
Immediately, the administrative staff and teachers should also be trained on social distancing, school hygiene practices and detection of flu-like symptoms. The best interest of every child must be at the centre of our decisions, using the best available evidence, but accurately, how this will look will vary from school to school.
In school, desks should be placed at least 3 feet apart, and ideally 6 feet apart when feasible. The authority should utilize outdoor spaces for teaching when possible. After the long break, learners might have formed behavioural changes in their attitudes as a new normal trend. The students would need time to fully readjust to the school system again.
This strategy would need to be implemented in conjunction with planning to ensure that students are not carrying home an unreasonable number of books on a daily basis and may vary depending on other instructional decisions schools are making.
Teachers and staff should maintain a distance of 6 feet from students when possible if it is not disruptive to educational process. The students do not know how to cough or sneeze in their arms; they may need helps washing their hands, and most students definitely will not keep their masks on for longer time because of sensory issues.
The Government needs to have a plan with different modalities that will allow local school administration to ensure that all children are either in school learning or access a unified approach to online learning, or a blended approach of distance and classroom-based learning, starting from January 2021. Every school should have a COVID-19 focal point trained to identify symptoms and protocols to immediately inform parents and provide them with instructions for testing and isolation. Schools also need to have direct links with testing facilities to receive prompt notifications if someone has been tested positive for coronavirus attended the school.
When school will reopen there may be required changes in the school timetable to allow for social distancing. Classes may split in different shifts: morning, noon, and afternoon. Class size should be limited to 20 students. After every three months, class time, routine and shifts maybe rearranged as per capacity. Assembly should remain off during the COVID outbreak. Group and collective curricular and extracurricular activities may be avoided.
 Furthermore, some classes may attend for only certain days of the week. School authority should inform parents of school reopening dates and measures that the schools will be taking during reopen, to ensure that parents are well prepared and prepare their children on expectations in the school well in advance.
Both the teachers and parents have important roles in making sure that children understand, learn and follow the new rules in schools set by the government. The schools will also have to clearly communicate the new rules with the parents so that they are aware, and they also support their children in practicing new rules and developing habits which are important to protect their health.
Campaign and awareness programs on school health-rules, responsibilities of teachers and parents should be launched right now. The parents may be required to check their kid's temperature before school. If their child shows signs of cold or flu, they should not go to school. If they are showing COVID-19 symptoms they need to follow the Government measures currently in place, and follow the guidance for testing and self-isolation.
During the COVID-19 some members even have lost their family members, relatives and friends in the pandemic. It is important to note that the impact of this pandemic will still be there when schools reopen. Therefore, school authority should take steps to ensure the health and well-being of their staff as they navigate this challenging time period.
The Government must balance the uncertainty and risks of reopening schools against the clear harms associated with prolonged closure.  However, efforts should be made to mitigate the effects of closure on students, their families and broader society. It is expected that the government will undertake all possible measures to ensure a safe environment for school children before reopening the academic institutes.

(Dr. Enamul is a researcher
and teacher trainer)

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