How are other countries preparing for the return to school?
After a few months with schools closed and distance learning, many countries have already announced guidelines for the return to face-to-face classes. Mask, no mask. Distance, no distance. The discrepancies are many, but there is one thing in common: everyone agrees that the virtual school is an unsustainable regime - it is estimated that Covid-19 has affected more than 1.5 billion students in the world. Each country is dealing with the pandemic differently and it is not yet known which is the most effective in terms of education. But in the meantime, many students have already started to return to classes. In this article we present some of the established norms.
The rules vary from region to region, but in general the use of a mask will only be mandatory if the distance is not complied with. Students should sit one meter away, without a mask whenever possible. To meet this interval, it may be necessary to remove all non-essential furniture from the rooms or gather students in alternative locations, such as laboratories or amphitheaters. Only as a last option, the use of a mask should be imposed during classes.
However, in common spaces, such as corridors or dining halls, the mask becomes mandatory. physical education classes should be held outdoors whenever possible, and contact sports such as basketball or football avoided. If they are practiced, groups of students must remain the same throughout the school year. In music lessons it will not be possible to share instruments.
In Madrid, the rules are slightly different: on return to school, scheduled for September, wearing a mask is not mandatory until the age of six; between the ages of six and 12, you can forgo its use if students are only with their usual contact group at school; from 12 years old, it will only be used in cases where it is not possible to keep a minimum distance of 1.5 meters. For teachers, the requirement depends on the level of education and the conditions of the classroom.
In Italy, one of the countries most affected by Covid-19, measures are not so liberal. In addition to hiring thousands of teachers, similarly to Portugal, the Italian Ministry of Education ordered 3 million individual tables and benches, as the materials that now exist in many schools do not allow the necessary physical distancing. However, it is feared that the new tables will not arrive in time for the start of classes, in September, and some schools have already started to work ahead: they are sawing the benches, turning them into two individual ones.
The masks are mandatory for the entire school community from the age of six — a measure that will be re-evaluated before the start of classes — and the teachers can use visors instead.
Schools will have some autonomy to make decisions in each situation, which makes the measures adopted different in each educational establishment. classes should be held outdoors whenever possible. They can also opt for mixed regimes, in which attendance at school is staggered and in parallel the classes are transmitted online. Secondary schools are the ones that most concern the Ministry of Education and some already have plans to move forward with mixed education.
The return to face-to-face classes, at the beginning of September, is no longer optional and becomes mandatory for all students The main measure to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus is creating groups of students (classes or levels of education) and avoiding as much as possible that they cross each other during the day, through staggered schedules and frequent cleaning of spaces.
Schools must also be in constant contact with the health authorities, who will carry out tests whenever cases are suspected. The British government still has one major concern: public transport. It is necessary to reduce demand and increase supply, especially at peak times. Schools were asked to encourage teachers and students to walk or cycle to school whenever possible.
It was the first country in Europe to return to face-to-face teaching, opting for the phased return. The 2020/2021 school year started in August with the new measures already in place: the rules allow young people not to wear a mask in classrooms - only when walking in the hallways - nor to comply with a minimum physical distancing. The students were divided by age group, either at breaks or in the cafeterias, avoiding crossing classes and different years. That way, if someone tests positive, it won't be necessary to close the entire school, just a class or a year will be isolated in quarantine.
As in Portugal, millions of euros were invested in laptops for students with greater financial needs.
Scotland has opted for a phased return, but by 18 September all schools must be operating at 100%. Some have chosen to receive the youngest first and others are dividing the students in alphabetical order. One-way corridors were also created to avoid crossings, so that students do not pass the same place twice. Masks are not mandatory during classes and libraries and auditoriums have been transformed into rooms to ensure student distancing. The older ones were only asked to avoid hugs, which is generating complaints from teachers. They have to keep two meters away from students and wear a mask whenever they are around other teachers.
In the United States of America, the country that has recorded the most cases of Covid-19 so far, in some regions, classes have already resumed, although the number of outbreaks is not decreasing. The lack of rules to contain the pandemic in educational establishments took many students and teachers to the streets, demonstrating against the situation experienced in the country. preparation of teachers for the new school year involves investing in life insurance and some even made a will. In reality, they have a difficult choice in front of them: to work without secure conditions or not to work at all.
Although in the last 15 days, the daily number of cases has been around 50 thousand (about 9 times more than in Portugal), students are not required to wear a mask nor even social distancing.