Updated: Nov 18
From Romania to China and many places in between, school bells are ringing as children enter their classes in a social distance manner. This spring school gates around the world slammed shut in an attempt to put a halt to the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. However, as weeks turned into months it is now time for a new academic year to begin, under exceptional conditions of course!
The beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year has taken all of us by surprise and forced us to adapt to our “new way of living.” Even though we have the opportunity to return on campus for face-to-face learning there are still many restrictions that we must follow which we would never have imagined a year ago. In reality, school is more “mask-to-mask” since all students and teachers are required to wear masks on campus in Romania. Even so, campuses have only opened their gates halfway in our country as most schools have chosen to adopt a hybrid-teaching model, with half of the students in a class online and the others on location. But this is the situation Romania, how are other countries handling the reopening of schools?
In Wuhan, Ground Zero for the COVID-19 pandemic, as many as 2,842 educational institutions across the city are set to open their doors to almost 1.4 million students. Since the virus originated in late 2019, the city suffered a death toll of 3,869 accounting for more than 80% of China’s total. China has put its authoritative system to good use, maintaining strict rules in schools in order to protect both students and teachers. Medical staff at the school’s doors welcome incomers, taking their temperature while administrative offices carefully asses each student’s travel history and coronavirus results. The local Communist Party overlooks the situation, making sure that everyone follows the regulations and shows an “anti-epidemic spirit.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum lays the United Kingdom, bidding on a more relaxed approach towards school reopening. Despite warnings from the World Health Organization that children over the age of 12 are advised to wear facemasks in school, especially when social distancing is not achievable, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who declared the reopening of schools to be a “moral duty,” stated that students are not required to wear masks in class. Hence, most pupils have returned to school with bare faces. Moreover, not even in areas that have been more affected by the pandemic and have been forced into local lockdown are the children forced to wear masks. In areas such as Manchester and Birmingham, where the number of cases spike staff and pupils are asked to wear face coverings when moving around the building and in communal areas, such as corridors or canteens, yet this regulation does not include classrooms where children spend most of their day.
In Russia, where record numbers of infections with COVID-19 are still being recorded, children also rush through the school gates as few restrictions have been put in place. Students are welcomed to school without facemasks as are teachers and other members of the establishment.
Belgium guards one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world, yet it is determined to greet children in class. Even so, restriction have been placed, one of the most crucial being that all children aged 12 and above and teachers will be required to wear masks, as Prime Minister, Sophie Wilmès announced.
In Kenya, officials have decided to delay the reopening of schools until January until further notice. As the World Economic Forum stated, developing counties have faced an added struggle during the pandemic due to the “difficulty testing for COVID-19 and enforcing social distancing in existing school settings”, struggling economies that cannot withstand a national lockdown and overcrowded living spaces which further provoke the spread of the virus.
Israel has initially been a cautionary tale during the pandemic, having managed the outbreak quite successfully and exemplary. In a courageous move, Israel was one of the first countries to allow children to come on campus in May. Initially, a small number of children were sent to school in order to
minimize contact and transition,
yet in a surprising turn of events, the government later conclude that all pupils can return with no limit on class size. This has ultimately led to a spike in cases with thousands of children being forced to quarantine after coming in contact with the virus. Currently, Israel has one of the highest infection rates in the world, thus being sent back into lockdown for the month of September. The Jewish New Year has been celebrated under conservative circumstances, as people were unable to come close to their loved ones.
In most parts of the world reopening schools has been a signal that life is slowly “getting back to normal.” Even though our standards for “normal” have changed considerably, stepping foot on the school campus, even for just one week at a time, has made most children extremely excited and eager to start a new- definitely memorable- academic year. Nonetheless, a huge responsibility still lies on us, the students, as we must be responsible, follow the adjustments- even though they might seem uncomfortable or time consuming-, and enjoy getting to experience history in the making!