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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

How various countries are reopening schools amidst the pandemic

As the pandemic enters its ninth month and a vaccine still remains out of reach, governments and educators across the world are beginning to reassess their approach towards facilitating learning in times of crisis.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: August 22, 2020 7:29:58 pm
How various countries are reopening schools amidst the pandemicDirector Juergen Scheuermann welcomes students as schools re-open after summer holidays and the lockdown due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Karl-Rehbein high school in Hanau, Germany, August 17, 2020.(Reuters)

When the number of Covid-19 cases began to spike by March this year, over 1.5 billion students across the world were impacted by the unprecedented closure of schools to contain the spread of the virus. As the pandemic enters its ninth month and a vaccine still remains out of reach, governments and educators across the world are beginning to reassess their approach towards facilitating learning in times of crisis.

While some countries have embraced digital learning as the safest bet during the pandemic, a growing number of nations have decided to bring students back into classrooms. Some world leaders have argued that prolonged remote learning is doing more harm than good. Many have promoted the reopening of schools by claiming that children are far less likely to develop severe symptoms of Covid-19.

In countries like Germany and the United States — where in-person learning is slowly restarting — a surge in cases among both students and teaching staff was reported within weeks of schools reopening.

Nevertheless, several nations have been more cautious while bringing students back by adopting novel strategies — ranging from drastically reducing the size of the class, to shifting classrooms to open spaces.

Here is a look at how nations around the world have been reopening schools

Denmark adopts the ‘pod’ model

Denmark was one of the first countries in the world to reopen schools. The country brought students back to their classrooms in phases — beginning with elementary school students in April, followed by middle and high school students in May. Even after schools were reopened, Covid-19 cases in the country continued to decline, according to official government data.

The European country managed this feat through the ‘pod’ method and strict social distancing. When young children, between the ages of two and 12, returned to schools, they were assigned to ‘micro groups’ or ‘pods’. Each group had a different arrival and lunch time, and were allocated separate zones to work and play in.

To ensure that students were maintaining adequate social distance even within a group, all their desks were kept two metres apart. Classrooms were cleaned at least twice a day, and whenever possible students were made to study outside. While the children were directed to wash their hands every two hours, the use of face masks was optional.

In the US, numbers spike despite social distancing measures

The decision to open schools in the United States has been a controversial one, since the country has the highest Covid-19 caseload in the world. Despite this, schools in several US states — including Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Indiana — have begun reopening.

US President Donald Trump has launched a pressure campaign, urging the country’s health experts to push for the reopening of schools. Last month, Trump went as far as threatening to cut federal funding for districts that defy his orders of resuming in-person classes, the New York Times reported.

While many schools have enforced strict measures — like placing desks six feet apart and regular temperature checks — a growing number of students and teachers have been infected by the virus in these states.

According to a CNN report, there has been a 90 per cent increase in the number of Covid-19 cases among children in the US this month, with several clusters emerging in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.

Despite growing numbers of cases and fatalities, several students have been seen without face masks. Recently, photographs and videos of a crowded hallway at a Georgia high school went viral on social media. Most of the students captured in the image were not wearing face masks.

In Taiwan, schools remained open through the pandemic

In Taiwan, schools were never officially shut down despite the onset of the pandemic. The Taiwanese government merely extended winter vacations by ten days so that schools and classrooms could be properly sanitised before students returned to class.

When the island, located merely 100 miles away from China, reported its first case in January, the Taiwanese government immediately jumped into action. Authorities quickly banned the entry of flights from the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau.

They began distributing masks and conducted wide-scale testing. While Taiwan has witnessed a slight upsurge in cases in recent months, the total caseload is yet to cross the 500-mark.

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