When, who, how? Both the science and logistics are complex in deciding how to get hundreds of millions of children around the world back to school. Here's a quick tour.
Countries starting to reopen after weeks in lockdown face the tricky questions of when and how to get the nation's students back into the classroom. Which ages go back first? What new rules are needed to minimize chances of future outbreaks? How will students be graded in post-pandemic education systems?
Little kids first: Denmark became the first European country to send kids back to schools after a month-long lockdown. Kindergartens and elementary schools were the first to reopen last week, in large part so that parents can return to work; high schools and universities should follow in mid-May. Reopened schools have to follow strict rules, including two-meter spacing between desks, disinfecting of the building several times a day and only up to 10 children allowed in one classroom.
Big kids first: In Germany, chancellor Angela Merkel plans a phased reopening to begin on May 4. Unlike Denmark, Germany's disease control agency recommends that older students who are more likely to follow strict distancing and hygiene rules, should return to classes first.
Strange senior year I: France announced Tuesday the progressive three-week reentry into the classroom, younger kids first. The end-of-the-year baccalauréat exam for those finishing high school has already been cancelled, leading to decidedly mixed feelings shared around the world: Parisian senior Serena summed it up to Le Monde: "I'm happy to not have to study, at the same time it was a moment we should have experienced all together, and we'll never experience it."
Children in a Danish school — Photo: David A. Williams/Xinhua/ZUMA
Strange senior year II: In Germany, where some of the first "Abitur" end-of-high-school exams are scheduled for the end of this week, one senior student in Berlin wanted to postpone her finals. She argued that she could not prepare for the finals properly as she doesn't have her own computer, couldn't study in a library and since she has been confined in a small apartment with her family 24/7 for a month, her ability to concentrate was significantly impaired by the family background noise. The regional administrative court rejected her request, saying her case is no special exception, reports Die Welt.
Change of plans I: Last week, Austria was supposed to join Denmark in returning to school, but changed course and kept schools closed, fearing that students would quickly start spreading the virus again.
Change of plans II: In Chile, schools were set to reopen next week, but Chilean president Sebastián Piñera postponed the gradual Back to School Plan until May in his speech on Sunday, reports Chilean radio ADN.
Staying Open: One notable country that has left its schools open during the pandemic is Sweden. However, more than 900 teachers and school staff have expressed their disapproval, reports Aftonbladet daily, saying that if the government officials thinks children — especially in kindergartens! — are going to follow strict distancing and hygiene guidelines, they either have a bad sense of humor or have never met a young child.
Staying Closed: In China, schools remain closed in most parts of the country. In Beijing and Shanghai, courses should restart next week for high-school seniors, with mandatory masks on for students and teachers. Wuhan, the city hardest hit by the COVID19 outbreak in China, is preparing to gradually reopen schools, but no schedule has been set yet, reports Chinese newspaper Global Times. Schools in the region are currently carrying out preparation work including disinfecting classrooms, installing body temperature monitoring instruments, and renovation of dining halls.