Internationally, schools are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic using various models of reopening depending on local infection rates. Some schools impose strict social distancing limits between students, while others allow them to mix freely. Some require all staff and students to wear masks, while others make this optional. And some schools are open to every student every day, while others will teach groups of students on alternate days. So, how is Thailand bringing children back to school?
Thailand campuses first reopened in June after three months of closures following health and safety protocols as advised by the Ministry of Education and OPEC (Office of Private Education Commission). The government has provided schools with a list of 44 actions which must be followed to open safely. International schools including the new VERSO International School (pictured above) must have approval from OPEC before they are allowed to open. However, the Thai government is considering allowing local schools to fully reopen without social distancing rules after the nation went without a local transmission of coronavirus for more than two months.
Now, as students return for the start of the 2020-21 academic year, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com answers all your questions on how schools will reopen, what to expect for the year ahead, and how Thailand compares to other countries.
Read more: Top Tips For Back to School
A: No, there is no mandatory test for staff and students. However, all new teachers at private-run schools (and those returning to the country from overseas) must have a mandatory Covid-19 test upon arrival in Thailand. Teachers arriving from countries including the US, the Netherlands, Britain and Singapore, must undergo strict quarantine procedures as laid down by the Office of the Private Education Commission (Opec).
Countries are taking different approaches to testing within schools. In the UK, for example, all schools and colleges will be provided with a small number of home testing kits for children or staff who develop symptoms while on campus; in Abu Dhabi in the UAE, all staff and students will be tested before being allowed into school for the start of term; and in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend universal testing of all students and staff in K-12 schools. Hong Kong is currently considering introducing mandatory testing for all children to allow it to reopen its schools, which currently remain closed until at least early September.
A: Campuses are typically places where students work around shared desks, children play tag in the playground, and young athletes tackle each other on the rugby pitch. Today, however, in Thailand’s schools, students are required to keep at least one metre apart, desks are being spaced 1-1.5 metre apart and must be forward-facing; and there is a one-way system in the corridors to minimise contact. Nothing is the same as before, but throughout the period of distance learning teachers and students have already proved their ability to cope with change.
In a recent survey of teachers in the UK by TES, a hub for the teaching community, 47% said that their biggest concern about going back to school was social distancing. And it’s easy to understand why. While many international schools with large campuses have the advantage of space and larger faculties to facilitate rotating schedules and fitting as many children into a classroom as possible while keeping them 1m apart, they still face the challenges of making major structural changes to their teaching environment.
Students in all year groups can now return to campus daily, as long as they can stay one metre apart. Larger classes have been split to meet these social distancing requirements; students either work in smaller groups or attend school on alternate days.
Most schools will keep groups of students within their own ‘protective bubble’, to avoid sharing resources and mixing with large groups of children. Timetables have been staggered to ensure that students do not all enter and leave school at the same time, and students are spending the majority of their school day within their home room or one classroom.
Students are either encouraged to bring their own snacks and lunch from home, or school canteens offer a set menu which is sent to parents and students in advance. Tables in school canteens are limited to five students, with at least one-metre spacing between tables or groups.
In other parts of the world, the social distancing requirement varies between 1m and 2m. We’ve seen images of students in France playing in 'isolated squares' drawn in paint and chalk on the playground, and Chinese pupils wearing one-metre hats to practise social distancing in the classroom. In Denmark, early years students stay in small groups all day, in ‘protective bubbles’ rather than social distancing; micro-groups of children arrive at a separate time, eat their lunch separately, stay in their own zones in the playground and are taught by one teacher.
A: Yes, all students must wear a face mask, but children and siblings under two years of age are not required to wear one. Teachers will be provided with clear face shields to wear in class, which will help with communication in class. As anyone leaving their home is required to wear a mask, parents must remember to wear one for school drop-off and pick-up.
During PE lessons, students and PE teachers will not be required to wear masks when doing strenuous physical activities such as running and drills for warm-ups. They will have to put on their masks at other times. Also, face masks do not to be worn while eating and drinking but should be worn at all other times during recess.
As schools have opened worldwide, we have seen different approaches to wearing masks. In Taiwan and South Korea, among other countries, schools have fitted plastic barriers on students’ desks to create protective cubicles. In Germany, students are only required to wear masks in common areas. And in New Zealand, Denmark and Sweden, masks for students are not required at all.
A: Students are advised to bring in their own water bottles to school, a mask (and a spare), and a pencil case filled with stationery to avoid needing to borrow equipment from their teachers or peers.
A: Team-sports and contact sports are not allowed during PE lessons or at break times – which rules out rugby, football, netball, basketball and hockey – and all sports equipment must be thoroughly cleaned between each use. Some extra-curricular activities, clubs and extra tutorials will restart; for example, one to one instrumental lessons can go ahead if students bring their own instrument.
A: Many aspects of school that make it sociable and fun have been stripped back – the school assemblies, end of year plays, sports days, music events, and awards ceremonies. All school excursions and residential trips, including competitive sports with other schools, are currently cancelled until at least Term 2. .
Governments worldwide are being steered by guidelines – The Framework for Reopening Schools – for the safe reopening of schools issued by UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP and World Bank. This framework includes prohibiting activities that require large gatherings, which is advice that is being widely followed.
A: If your child is travelling to school on public transport, they must wear a mask, and safe distancing should be observed.
If driving, in order to avoid groups gathering, schools are asking all parents to drop their children at ‘kiss and go’ zones rather than escorting them onto campus and into class during drop-off and pick-up times; only parents of children under seven years old can enter school to drop their children at the classroom. Parents should remain in their vehicle in the drop off zones, and schools are using staggered start-times and different entrance areas to manage this.
Worldwide, parents have been barred from entering school grounds, and told to wave goodbye to their children at the gate; in New Zealand, for example, parents remained at the school gate when their children returned to the classroom in May.
A: Schools should ask parents to check their child's temperature before going to school, and there should be temperature checks at the school gate for anyone entering the campus; students can only attend school if their temperature is below 37.6C/99.7F. Parents and helpers collecting their children must also have temperature checks taken before entering school grounds. Some schools have thermal cameras at the school gate to monitor temperature, and there will often be shoe disinfectant trays and hand sanitiser sprays at the school gates.
Children worldwide are starting their school day with a temperature check, which is widely considered a key tool in keeping on top of the Covid-19 pandemic as a fever is one of the early signs of the virus. Adding this new procedure to the school day may slow down children coming into school, but it could prove vital.
A: All visitors, staff and students must complete a Health & Travel Declaration form before term starts.
Prior to the start of each day, schools disinfect all spaces and surfaces, including learning resources and equipment. Once on campus, students should not share stationery; there are hand sanitising stations across campuses with manual hand pumps, foot pumps and automatic alcohol-based gel dispensers; and school premises are being regularly cleaned and disinfected. The number of students using the toilets at any one time is strictly regulated. Also, schools must limit students’ time in air-conditioning to a maximum period of two hours.
It is universally acknowledged that schools need to be disinfected everyday, there should be hand sanitisers around campuses, and students are encouraged to wash their hands frequently.
A: Parents are free to decide whether their child will attend an international school; however, there is no guarantee that all schools will continue to provide distance learning once campuses reopen.
Globally, it is more than likely to be mandatory for children attending local, government-run schools to return to campus. In the UK, for example, children must return to school once they reopen and the UK government has said that, “For the vast majority of children, the benefits of being back in school far outweigh the very low risk from coronavirus (COVID-19). And, even if private and international schools do offer the option of distance learning, this will only be a short-term solution.
While the majority of students are able to be physically present on campus, others may not. Some schools in Thailand are providing both online (for a short period of time) and at-school learning, to cater for students who may be delayed returning to school due to quarantine and travel restrictions.
While in most countries worldwide, students will not have the option to continue with online learning once schools reopen, there are some exceptions. In the UAE, for example, Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) has requested all private schools to offer 100% distance learning provision for the new academic year to parents who request it. This will be temporary measure “intended to help ease parents and children into an eventual return to face-to-face learning”.
A: Is there is a confirmed case of Covid-19 reported in a school, the school will isolate the individual student immediately and notify a public health official for further investigation, quarantine and treatment.
A. If the situation changes, the Thai government may decide to close campuses again or enforce stricter social distancing measures. In this instance, many international schools have planned for various scenarios: to return to a distance learning programme or alternate remote learning with a modified on-campus learning model.
A: At this time, the November 2020 exams are scheduled to take place as planned. But this could change if school closures become widespread again due to new waves of Covid-19.
The International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) says:
“However, as circumstances around the globe shift daily, we continue to monitor the situation closely. In the event that the exam session cannot take place, the IB will use procedures to ensure students can be assessed and awarded either the Diploma, Career-related Programme certificate or course results which reflect their standard of work.”
A: Prospective parents and visitors can only visit campuses out of school hours and an appointment must always be made; many schools are still offering virtual tours as well.
Will your child be starting a new school in August? How do you feel about the return to school for the new academic year?
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