Thailand Schools Reopen in ‘Sandbox Project’

International schools are given approval to welcome day and boarding students back to campus for the first time in nearly six months as part of a new programme of Covid-19 regulations.
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

Above: Boarding students are returning to Rugby School Thailand as part of the Sandbox Project

Students are starting to return to international schools in Thailand for the first time in months as part of the nationwide School Safety Sandbox scheme. Schools were closed in April 2021 and online learning has continued for the start of the new academic year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than 40 schools including Rugby School Thailand and British International School, Phuket (BISP) are starting to reopen as part of a new government programme, which requires them to create a closed ‘bubble’ with rigorous safety measures; there are also strict limits on who can go in and out of school campuses, and tests using Antigen Test Kits of students, teachers and other school staff every two or four weeks.

A sandbox environment typically refers to an isolated testing environment for software; in this context, it describes a model where users have the freedom to move around within an isolated environment. It is based on Phuket's recent launch of a successful sandbox scheme to reinstate international tourism on the island.

So far 44 international schools, which are regulated by the Office of the Private Education Commission, are part of the new Sandbox programme. Thailand’s Department of Health has also stated that at least 85% of students, teachers and other staff of schools in Covid-19 ‘red and ‘dark-red’ zones (such as Bangkok) will have to be vaccinated before their schools are allowed to reopen.

UWC Thailand and Rugby School Thailand are among a handful of international schools in Thailand that have permission to have boarders back on campus.

At UWC, all boarding students can return to the school after a negative Covid-19 test on day one, and then move back into the boarding houses after a negative test on day five. The school is also offering day students in Nursery to Grade 3 the option to return to campus for face-to-face lessons.

At Rugby, Year 7-13 students can opt to join the boarding bubble or continue online learning as usual, and online learning is continuing for all students from Pre-Nursery up to Year 6.

Rugby Principal Bruce Grindlay said:

“We have the space and set-up (as a boarding school) to bring large numbers on-site and still operate with all the necessary Covid safety precautions.
“Beyond academic lessons, the boarding bubble students will enjoy sports and co-curricular activities, with enriching evening entertainment too. This includes everything from special lectures, to fancy dress, film nights and barbecues."

It has been a challenging 18 months for families in Thailand, where schools were closed for over three months last year and since April this year. All families with children enrolled into primary and secondary schools will receive a THB 2,000 rebate per child from the government, to help finance school fees during the pandemic.

Although some schools are opening under the Sandbox programmes, they continue to offer online learning to families who choose not to send their child back to campus while Covid-19 cases remain high in the country.

BISP has welcomed back students from Early Years through to Year 4, who are back to a “full, focused, timetable of classroom lessons, specialist PE and Art classes and access to additional onsite activities.” However, the school also continues to offer a full timetable for online learners in these year groups, as well as to students in Years 5 to 13.

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