Students Safety is paramount before school reopen


Governments around the world are struggling to address a big challenge while battling the pandemic — how to safely bring students back to classrooms.

The bigger challenges are to ensure school campuses remain free of infection and, in the eventuality of an outbreak — a dreadful possibility that can’t be ruled out — formulate strategies to contain it effectively.

Countries that allowed schools to resume on-campus classes without social distancing have faced disastrous consequences.

For example, over 2,000 people tested positive and one teacher died in Israel after schools were allowed to resume teaching with up to 40 students in a class in May. Elsewhere, schools faced a high cost of reopening as they implemented safety protocols.

The UAE will face these challenges by August end when schools are expected to reopen. While a lot has been said about the reopening by schools and regulators, there is no clarity yet on several issues.

On Sunday, Sharjah Private Education Authority (SPEA) said all students, teachers and staff will have to test negative before they are allowed to return. The authority did not say where these tests would have be conducted, how long the test results will remain valid and how frequently tests will have to be done.

Similarly, school education regulators in Dubai and Abu Dhabi said parents can opt for distance education and schools are allowed to choose hybrid system, a mix of in-class and online teaching.

Social distancing guidelines

It is not clear if schools have teaching resources to prepare lessons for both the systems simultaneously. Some schools have announced staggered AM and PM shifts to comply with social distancing guidelines.

However, schools with large number of students are unlikely to opt for staggered shifts given the logistical challenges. Parents of a few schools in Dubai have opted for distance learning as they remain concerned about the pandemic.

Whatever models schools opt for, they must ensure that safety protocols are in place before students return to classrooms. Also, regulators, health authorities and schools must have a plan to deal with an outbreak on the campus.

They must know what to do if a student, teacher or a staff member is tested positive. Also, how students reach campuses — using own transport or school buses — must be factored into while formulating assembly and disbursal plans.

It is clear that the return of students to classrooms is not going to be an ordinary affair and will involve cooperation of all stake holders — schools, parents, students, regulators and health authorities.

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