The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic puts the schooling process under the pressure of new rules. What spring schooling will look like in Europe?
Covid-19 puts the schooling process under the pressure of new rules. European countries are applying different approaches between on- and off-line teaching for the new school year.
Online mode or offline mode?
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a strong debate over the current schooling process. Universities, schools and other educational institutes were forced to shift their programs into online mode from spring to autumn 2020. According to a recent article in Science Magazine, approximately 1,500 members of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health admitted that continuation of the online process of the education harms youth more than protects school communities from the probability to become infected. The fact that children are less likely than adults to suffer from severe symptoms of the virus helps (Science Magazine). Many countries hard hit by the virus have oscillated between in-person and remote learning, sometimes establishing different rules from school district to school district. The fact that the effects of the pandemic are on the rise again begs the question of whether spring schooling in Europe will continue to be online or whether there will be attempts to return offline.
European countries have implemented various methods to ensure students have learning environments in the best possible conditions. The plan for some has been to start the new school year offline to adapt to new social distancing rules. The UK insisted on a full school reopening in September and implemented a set procedure for returning students to school. Directives on school re-openings have included detailed guidelines on how to manage the process.
Educational institutes have also taken pains to inform students about hand-washing practices, disinfect school environments regularly, set up “catch it, bin it, kill it” sneezing and coughing rules, and establish rapid communication channels with NHS Test and Trace facilities. Moreover, schools strive to minimize the number of direct contact students make during the school day with each other, with their instructors, with staff and with outside individuals to minimize risk of contagion. Each grade or academic year is being considered an insular “bubble” and class schedules and sizes have been adjusted for the new terms. Breaks between the lessons, lunch and extra-curricular activities have been put on rotation cycles that reduce the number of social contacts students make during the day (National Education Union). Naturally, the “bubble” system is flawed.
Implementing appropriate safety measures such as social distancing and the use of face masks and hand sanitizers is proving difficult with children under 11 years old during class time and on school transportation. Ensuring parents do not gather in groups outside school, or that they avoid visiting schools without warning, is an additional challenge. A lot of effort has been put into both staff training procedures on how to use the face masks correctly and monitoring compliance with the rules.
The measures taken
The NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) supports the UK’s plan to return the schooling process to “normal” as soon as possible given the difficulties with the bubble model. Schools that have maintained online teaching for the autumn, or that have switched to a hybrid program of partial remote/partial in-person teaching, are awaiting further instructions from local and national health officials. For now, students unable to attend school in person for any valid reason have been provided access to online platforms and materials that ensure adequate education, states the NEU.
Despite all the taken measures for tackling the Covid-19 and ensuring students a safe school year, uncertainties still prevail. The NEU admits that a plan B is needed in case of the number of the infected persons continues to increase. Advised measures such as good ventilation, sanitation, safe transportation and social distancing should be strictly enforced. Even then, possibility that the guidelines provided by the government will be ineffective is high. The situation has motivated the NEU to create a 10 Point National Education Recovery Plan and to continuously devise and revise safety and prevention strategies. All possible scenarios are being considered, and various contingency plans are being developed.
Covid-19 has created difficulties for educational systems all over the world. States are doing everything possible to implement programs that will afford citizens a safe school year. It is difficult to predict how educational processes will be permanently affected if there is a second (or third) wave of spread of the virus, but in the meantime, European countries are moving forward cautiously with plans to start all spring schooling in person and let students currently studying remotely or in hybrid programs back fully into classrooms.