As Countries Reinstate Despite The New Coronavirus, Hundreds Of Millions Of Students Are Returning To School
When the new coronavirus spread around the world, more than a billion students were sent home from school.
In recent weeks, hundreds of millions of students have been cleared to return as countries have begun to reopen in fits and starts.
By the end of March, less than two months after the first coronavirus cases were confirmed outside China, more than 90 percent of the world’s students were already affected by school closures, according to estimates from the United Nations educational, scientific and cultural Organization, known as UNESCO.
Stuck at home for several months, they found themselves part of a global network of hastily implemented experiments in home learning, distance learning, and social distancing.
At the height of such measures in April, nearly 1.6 billion students were affected, according to UNESCO, with 194 of them closed across the country.
As of June 5, more than 1.1 billion students remain affected — more than 64 percent of the world’s total student population, with 134 closures across the country still in effect.
Even in countries where school closures are not implemented at the national level, violations in education remain widespread.
In the United States, measures vary at the local level, but most States have authorized closures before the end of the year.
Students whose school bans have been lifted will be the subjects of a new global experiment as educators and policy makers try to determine what classrooms should look like during a pandemic.
Here’s how some countries around the world handle the return.
UK reopened its schools in early June, sending hundreds of thousands of students back to classes for the first time since March 18.
But it was a very partial renewal: outside of England, the semi-Autonomous governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland decided to wait until August or later.
In England itself, conditions for return varied significantly, and dozens of local authorities chose to keep their schools closed.
Officials have particularly pushed for the return of children to the equivalent of kindergarten, first grade and sixth grade, which have been identified by the British government as “key transition years.” Return to school is encouraged, but not required.
Many parents seem to have decided to leave their children at home.
A survey conducted by the National Foundation for educational research found that 46 percent of parents plan to do so.
The head teachers ‘ Union told the BBC that attendance overall is between 40 and 70 per cent.
In Brazil, which has the second-highest number of confirmed cases in the world, President Jair Bolsonaro adheres to the principle of non-intervention in the fight against the coronavirus and publicly rejects calls to reopen schools.
“What has happened in the world has shown that the people at risk are over 60 years old, ” Bolsonaro said in his national address at the end of March. “So why close schools?”
Without a coordinated national response, local officials decide to close schools.
By the end of March, full-time classes were discontinued in most schools in the country.
Despite the continued spread of the coronavirus in Brazil, some municipal authorities have said that they intend to reopen schools in the near future.
In mid-January, China told nearly 200 million students that they would not return to school after the winter break — part of a broader blockade of the viral epicenter of Hubei province and other hard-hit regions.
This early lockdown, also adopted in Hong Kong, prefigured measures that would spread around the world.
But as the outbreak waned in China, parts of the country also became some of the earliest places to see children return to schools.
UNESCO said that school openings in China have been “progressive,” generally starting with students in the last year of their secondary school education.
In Wuhan, the pandemic’s initial epicenter, schools reopened in early May, but children had to pass through temperature checks, wear masks and enter and leave at specific times to avoid crowding.
Denmark announced that it will close its schools on March 11. Just a month later, it became the first country in Europe to reopen them, and by April 20, almost all primary schools were open.
Although some parents kept their children at home, many were confident in government guidelines on sanitation and social distancing (including that tables should be about six feet apart and the recesses staggered to avoid crowds).
The older children returned to school at the end of May.
So far, there has been no sign of a resurgence of the coronavirus — new cases have continued to decline as schools have opened, which is also seen in some other European countries.
In Norway, which began reopening on April 20, Prime Minister Erna Solberg told broadcaster NRK that it may not have been necessary to close schools, but she does not regret the decision.
Japan closed its schools later than some of its neighbors, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked only at the end of February to close its doors to schools.
In March, the Japanese government announced that it would not renew the request and would leave the decision to municipalities, which would have guidelines to follow.
Some schools started reopening in early may, with priority given to first-or final – year students, while others were asked to start in a few weeks.
Some schools in hard-hit cities or regions must remain closed, while reopening schools take various measures to prevent overcrowding, including smaller classes, face masks, and phasing out classes.
Japan is concerned about the possibility of a second wave of infections.
After no new cases were reported from April 30 to may 22, 119 cases were reported in the city of Kitakyushu in Fukuoka Prefecture in just 11 days, including 11 students from four elementary and Junior high schools, prompting an order to re-close schools.
New Zealand imposed its strictest level of isolation with mandatory school closures on March 23, when it confirmed 102 cases.
But within six weeks, the country announced that it would relax these restrictions due to positive signs of viruses’ spread.
In late April, the government eased the lockdown from level 4 to level 3 by opening schools, but parents were told to keep their children at home if possible.
On may 18, it was downgraded to level 2, allowing hundreds of thousands of students to return to class.
Under current standards, as the country approaches zero infections, there are few restrictions on healthy children.
The government stated that ” people need to behave safely and to continue to take reasonable precautions in respect of health and safety.”
Nigeria announced that it will close all schools in the country on March 19.
At that time, there were 12 confirmed cases in the country, although this number has since grown to more than 10,000, and 287 deaths have been confirmed so far.
More than two months later, schools remain closed. The government said it hopes to allow local authorities to reopen schools in the coming weeks, despite a sharp increase in the number of such cases.
At the end of February, the South Korean government informed the students that their break would be extended by one week.
It was then expanded for two more,and then indefinitely as the coronavirus spread. Schools began reopening months later, at the end of may, with high school students returning first.
This initial resumption was delayed for a week after an outbreak in the night-time district of Seoul, Itaewon.
And just days after the first students returned to class, hundreds of schools were closed after a sudden spike in new cases.
Returning students must adhere to various measures aimed at limiting any potential spread, including plastic screens over their desks, masks, and temperature control.
But the government was determined to resume work, noting that children were not even kept at home during the Korean war.
“I believe that we cannot let down the dreams and future of our children because of the current difficulties, ” Prime Minister Chong Se-Kyung said this week.
South Africa announced on March 18 it would close all schools indefinitely.
The last years of primary and secondary school, grades 7 and 12, respectively, were supposed to return to school at the start of June, that plan was abandoned after teachers’ unions and governing associations refused to back it.
Teachers say they don’t have enough protective equipment to protect themselves and their students.
In response to this backlash, the South African Ministry of basic education said that the opening of schools would be delayed by a week so that schools could prepare for the arrival of students.
Taiwan, with fewer than 500 confirmed cases of coronavirus, has managed to contain the spread of the infection without resorting to many of the draconian measures seen in other countries.
This also applies to school closures: although the government extended the winter break for another two weeks in February, it reopened schools as normal by February.
25 and since then, most educational institutions have operated on a regular schedule, although with strict sanitary measures.
Schools and universities close if they confirm a case among students and staff, but this was rare: only one school closed its doors by early April, along with several universities.