Reopening schools in times of COVID-19

Should schools reopen before or after summer vacation? Schools around Europe are slowly beginning to reopen but great disparities exist between countries and the school calendar has never been so undefined for millions of learners. Even when their health situation is comparable, the answers diverge.

While schools closed in more than 190 countries worldwide affecting more than a billion learners to contain the COVID-19 virus for more than 2 months now, Ministries of Education have been striving to provide practical guidance to school leaders, teachers and families on how to cope with emergency remote teaching, how to set up an online classroom, what platforms to use, or where to find digital resources.

Now, the question of when and how reopen schools is sensitive as the evidence on risks of the virus transmission is insufficient. According to UNESCO data, 100 countries have not yet announced a date for schools to reopen, 65 have plans for partial or full reopening, while 32 will end the academic year online.

Optimal safety

Therefore, European Schoolnet held a webinar in April with its member Ministries of Education on gradual school openings in times of COVID-19. In countries such as Denmark or Greece which have been reopening their schools in different phases, stakeholders pointed out that their main priority is to guarantee optimal safety and hygiene conditions within each school. Less children are on the premise at the same time to limit any spread of the virus. So schools host several student groups at different times of the day or on alternate days.

Given the circumstances, some of the countries that reopened their schools have been flexible on allowing children to continue with online learning from their home, but providing teaching both in class and remotely represents a heavy workload for teachers. For example, in Sweden, the Ministry of Education recommended schools to reach out to retired teachers to help them out. Moreover, some parents are worried to bring their child to school, so communication among parents, students, teachers and school leaders is necessary to raise the concerns and address them.

It is important to emphasize that respecting social distancing rules and health measures is the adults' responsibility and it should not be passed on to children. Also, students and teachers are learning now how to interact with each other in online learning environments, in particular in the group evaluation and the assessment of the work, so good practice examples should be collected and lessons should be learned for the future as the objective of schools is the children's best interest.