Monday, 18 October, 2021
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Roadmap for Full Return to Schools

Dr. Md. Enamul Hoque

Roadmap for Full Return to Schools
Dr. Md. Enamul Hoque

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The government is very close to reopening schools as children and young people are at risk of mental upset. Keeping schools closed eliminates the risk of disease transmission at school, but it also imperils children’s learning, psychosocial health, and overall development.  This should not go on. Schools should be the last to close and the first to reopen. The decision of reopening schools and academic instructions is deemed quite praiseworthy.

All schools should not be opened in one go; that is a common sense. The government should adopt a well-thought out model  and roadmap to reopen schools and to execute all acdemic activities during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. In this case, the hybrid approach must be applied to strengthen pedagogy, adapt blended teaching and learning, including knowledge and awareness of the transmission and prevention. The mixed-method approach, blending of partial in-person and partially online can optimize our teaching–learning and prevention of Covid-19 transmission.

Safe reopening of schools is feasible now. The virus has taught us that its behaviour cannot be predicted or taken lightly. In matters concerning children, safety should always come first. Reopening schools will not be much risky as the available evidence suggests that transmission within schools has been low, particularly for pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools; there is clear evidence that primary and secondary schools are not among the main drivers of transmission. The risk of Covid-19 transmission in schools is manageable with appropriate mitigation strategies in most settings: masking, distancing, and washing hands.

Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports; but reopening schools cannot wait for all teachers and students to be vaccinated. With the global vaccine shortages plaguing low and middle-income countries, vaccinating frontline workers and those most at risk of severe illness and death will remain a priority. All schools should provide in-person learning as soon as possible, without barriers to access, including not mandating vaccination prior to school entry.

Furthermore, we cannot wait for cases to go to zero. The decision to open or close schools should be based on risk analysis and the epidemiological considerations in the communities where they are situated. This should not go on. Schools should be the last to close and the first to reopen. In the meantime, adequate  Covid-19 vaccination resources for the whole school community must be available and accessible.

An optimum model for reopening schools is a must to handle the in-person learning in the pandemic. We should not bring every student back to schools at a time; based on the size of a class, every class should be divided into three groups, say: Group A, Group B, and Group C. Every group will come to schools every alternate day; that is each group will attend the class twice a week, which should continue for 6 months. This method will ensure social distancing and lower the risks of transmission. Shift systems can be an effective way to distribute in-person learning to most students and each model had a set of pros or cons.

For the first six months, we should apply new model of learning named hybrid or blended model that combines both remote/online learning and in-person learning to improve students’ experience and ensure learning continuity - it is of particular relevance during school partial reopening and in preparation for potential virus resurgence; but, educational systems and schools may face significant challenges in setting up hybrid learning systems, and in preparing to switch between models; but, it is easily manageable.

In the next six months,   the three groups of students (Group A, Group B, and Group C) should be merged into two new groups: Group 1, and Group 2.  Each group will come to schools every alternate day; that is, both groups will attend the class thrice a week, which should continue for the next 6 months. The Hybrid or blended learning should continue for the whole year. Furthermore, class schedule needs to be reshuffled; classes may be started one hour later and be closed one hour earlier to minimize the traffic on the streets. 

After the 12 months have passed, all groups should be merged into ONE group, and full-fledged in-person schooling can be reinstated. Universal masking, social distancing, and other health rules can be maintained effectively in schools as the school communities are the sensible, resinable segments of our socities; they must maintain safety rules of prevention.

Almost all schools  can maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk. They can ensure adequate water, hygiene and sanitation services accessible. The school authority needs to encourage the use of hand sanitizer, and where recommended by national authorities, emphasize the importance of proper use of cloth masks. In addition, information on hygiene should be widely available and accessible, including in minority languages or braille, and in child-friendly language. Food consumption should be done outside the classroom, preferably in an open area or well-ventilated hall.

The first day of school is a landmark moment in a child's life – setting them off on a life-changing path of personal learning and growth. Most of us can remember countless inconsequential details – what clothes we wore, our teacher's name, who we sat next to. But for millions of children, that important day has been indefinitely postponed. This happened for millions of kids who were enrolled but could not enjoy their schools even for a single day.  

A child's first day of school – a milestone for the youngest students and their parents around the world – has been delayed for millions young minds comes to end in many parts of the world. At this time our government must not be perplexed and confused, rather they should apply a well-thought out model and a clear-cut roadmap to work in the model. In the context of a return to school for all children, the government must not compromise with the safety of the students, teachers, parents, and other staff. We must immediately address the gaps in learning this pandemic has already created.

 

The writer is an educational researcher

and teacher educator..  Email: [email protected]