In the past two weeks, schools in Vietnam, the UAE, Italy, Ireland, Iran, Japan and more than 10 other countries across four continents have been shut – and the UK is among those likely to follow suit. But are school closures always the right option? And what are the necessary steps that these schools need to take before they can safely reopen?
Countries including Singapore (and until just this week, Thailand) have kept schools open and implemented a raft of safety measures to protect teachers and students – and the wider community. It’s a decision that divides public opinion, and it could be overturned any day in the not so distant future.
Schools have to reopen eventually – even if COVID-19 is still circulating the community – and many countries have set a (tentative) date. Hong Kong schools were due to open on April 20 after 12 weeks of closures, but this looks set to be extended. Schools in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City should reopen from March 30, and students are due to return to UAE schools on April 5.
So, what can we learn from the schools in countries such as Singapore? And how can their precautionary measures and procedures be used as a template for the safe reopening of schools?
Inside this feature:
Singapore’s Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has had to field many questions over the past two months, asking why schools stay open. While the government has not ruled out school closures, Ong has stated that schools are a controlled environment for students that are generally clean. “Closing school will disrupt many lives. We don’t rule it out when required, but it is a major, major decision,” says Ong.
The Ministry of Education says: “One thing to consider is that even if all students stay at home, there is no guarantee against infection. Lots of infections happen at home actually. It is also unrealistic to expect older kids to stay at home. They will go out and inter-mingle."