As the days get shorter, the back-to-school season is upon us for those in the northern hemisphere. But for 1.5 billion primary and secondary school students in the world, how, when and even if they should be brought back to the classrooms still matters.
Yes, school closures do have a significant impact on children. In a few American cities, more than one in five public school children who participated in virtual learning dropped out. But the move back to campus and on-site learning is going to be a challenge because of the ongoing pandemic.
Getting it wrong can be devastating. For example, when Israel reopened schools in May without effective safety protocols, more than 2,000 people ended up testing positive. In early June, Beijing closed schools immediately after a cluster outbreak in a wholesale market.
Scenarios like this have caused worry among parents about sending their children to schools. The recent outbreaks have also prompted governments to delay the reopening of schools. School partiers opposed to any restrictions do not make things easier. To make matters worse, the debate has become so political in the U.S. that people forget opening schools in a country with such a high caseload could be a recipe for disaster.
China, on the contrary, is sitting on the other end of cautiousness. However, young people have celebrated their hard-earned chances to revel in pool parties. People's nerves are still raw. Even with no new cases of domestic infections, schools all over the country are opening with extreme caution, practicing the strictest safety standards that include physical distancing in classrooms, mask requirements and enhanced air filtration.
There isn't a playbook for responding to these challenges. Governments must be resourceful and creative.
An excellent example of how China is adapting can be seen in Wuhan, a city of 11 million and ground zero for the coronavirus outbreak in the country. Almost 3,000 educational institutions across the city are set to open their doors to 1.4 million students this week. Also, 83 universities will begin resuming offline classes.
Some schools are implementing online/offline hybrid teaching models."Hyflex" is the idea, a combination of "hybrid" and "flexible." Students can choose to attend sessions in the classroom, join online discussions, or to take both options.
Also, detailed procedures have been created: wearing masks in the classroom, daily WeChat check-ins by teachers with parents and recommended travel modes to and from school.
Behind these is policymaking that is resilient, resourceful and ingenious. COVID-19 has been a crisis of historic proportions. It has also provided a revealing look at (whether) governments have the resilience and resourcefulness to respond to unexpected situations. It also has been an opportunity for the education sector to develop new and more effective ways to deliver better education in an uncertain environment.
2020 is bound to change many things in our lives. Education is definitely one of them. Our children will continue to learn but very differently when they return to school in a post-COVID world.
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