Students and educators alike have been terribly disappointed by the fact that school won’t be resuming face-to-face classes for this school year. Although there are many disadvantages to those involved in remote learning, there are some things that can be taken into consideration as advantages.
One great advantage is being able to see how other countries are coping with reopening strategies and use their ideas, learning what isn’t working before we have to try it ourselves. In many places, countries are weeks and months ahead of the U.S. in the pandemic, so they are really leading the way in developing ideas for all of us.
Here are some of the important areas educators around the world are considering as conversations begin about heading back into the classroom.
One of the first and most important things to note is that it is highly unlikely that school will be going back to what we remember as “normal”. Education, as well as the economy, the lives of our students and teachers, has changed dramatically, and we will be seeing those effects for years to come.
While getting students and teachers back into the same room is a priority for most, it just isn’t going to look the same.
Educators have to be prepared for that reality.
Hygiene and Personal Safety
Most schools are implementing very strict guidelines on who can come back to school, and how they must conduct themselves there.
Even the very smallest students and children in childcare are wearing masks and must learn to keep them on. Teachers are wearing gloves to touch student work and are having to be creative about handing out and collecting work because everyone has to still maintain social distancing. Shared materials have to be sanitized.
In many places, teachers are allowed to be in one section of the classroom, and all of the students’ seats have to be facing forward so that children are not coughing or sneezing in each other’s faces. Basically, things like group work and flexible seating will be out the window in the way we’ve seen it done in recent years. Once communally shared things like water fountains cannot be used.
Another reason for hours of operation and staggered attendance changes is so that children can use restrooms at home, or fewer students share restrooms during the hours they are at school, and janitorial staff must disinfect things more frequently.
There are a variety of ways to handle mealtimes: students must either completely unmask and be a safe distance away from each other, or learn how to eat with masks on. Those schools that divide their students into morning and afternoon sessions do so partly in order for students who can eat at home to do so.
All students and staff members still have to maintain social distancing rules. Yes, even the kindergarteners. That means that class sizes are being reduced dramatically (something that’s really been needing to happen for a long time). However, in order to accommodate these smaller sizes, students are either attending class two to three times a week and in shifts, or during either morning or afternoon hours.
In other words, the times and days that children attend school have dramatically and necessarily changed.
Opening and Closing Again
Schools in Japan were using all the strategies above, but as students went back to school, there were complications elsewhere that caused the number of infected people to rise again. Because of this, within two weeks of school starting, schools throughout the country had to close again.
Teachers around the globe should be aware that this is a possibility and remain flexible because things may be uncertain for quite a while.
Who Needs Education More?
In staggering classes and choosing who comes to school daily, some countries have started by only providing public schooling for the very young. Elementary schools are opening sooner than most secondary schools in many places.
Those students with severe special needs are given the opportunity to come back, although class sizes are necessarily greatly reduced.
Part of the difficulty with deciding who should return first is that those who need face-to-face education the most are also the most vulnerable, limiting much in the way of resources that places are able to use and the number of students they are able to help.
Some countries have created “bubbles” - small groups of about 4 to 6 students who don’t have access to technology at home, are very vulnerable, or are the children of essential workers. Those small groups attend school in the building, but their teachers are at home and teaching all of the students at the same time. So the class is still a virtual class, but some of your students may be in a classroom with a monitor so they can access the technology, or be watched while the adults in their family are working.
There are still far more questions than there are answers right now, but these are a few of the topics that educators are tackling world-wide.