Countries Take Different Approaches to the Reopening of Schools

Liz Peron

As some of the first countries to be ravaged by the coronavirus begin to re-open their schools, the US has the advantage of being able to choose which country’s blueprint to follow. On Wednesday, May 6, high school seniors in Wuhan, China returned to school, marking a full-circle recovery for the original Covid-19 epicenter that is home to patient zero. However, post-pandemic school definitely looks a lot different than it did before. Senior and vocational students were given priority in their return to school because these students are preparing for university entrance exams. Among the precautions taken to ensure students’ and families’ safety, students had their temperatures scanned as they walked into school buildings, class sizes were limited, desks were spaced apart, all students wore masks, and there were staggered arrival times in some schools. Many schools are following similar protocols, although schools look a little different for everyone. 

The reopening of schools is integral to Covid-19 recovery efforts for a multitude of reasons. For starters, the return of many parents to their jobs hinges upon whether or not schools will be providing childcare. Proponents of schools reopening have also argued that socioeconomic differences between children are exacerbated during this pandemic, with many underprivileged children lacking adequate technology, internet connections, and access to school-provided meals. These children may not have quiet places to do their homework, and some children may be experiencing higher rates of abuse during their time at home. Another issue with remote learning is that many students do not have authority figures to ensure that they are learning. Even children that do have parents monitoring their homework struggle to do their homework when they are given unlimited time and find it difficult to be away from their peers. Students all around the world complain about a lack of motivation, with some waking up four hours later than they would on a normal school day. Some believe that it is almost impossible to match the educational quality of face-to-face learning. 

In order to plan for the reopening of schools, administrators and officials have relied on varied scientific data to determine the risk that children’s interactions at school could have on the spread of coronavirus. The British Columbia Center for Disease Control claimed that “there are no documented cases of children bringing an infection into the home, from school or otherwise.” However, in contrast, a respected German virologist has suggested that children are equally contagious as adults, despite many being asymptomatic, in his latest study. Given conflicting research, countries have understandably had varied approaches to reopening schools. Not only could children possibly be spreading coronavirus to their family members, but they could also be spreading the disease to elderly teachers. Keeping this in mind, China, Greece, and South Korea have permitted seniors to attend schools, while Denmark, Norway, Germany, and other European countries have been gradually opening schools beginning with preschool. Many Western countries, including the US, UK, Italy, France, and Spain, have all reported cases of a mysterious Covid related illness in young children called Kawasaki disease. If children are truly at a high risk for this devastating new disease, then it would present another curveball to the reopening of schools. 

Many Northern European countries and Asian countries are reopening their schools. Notably, most of the US, Italy, and Spain are not included in this group of countries. The schools that are reopening are all using similar tactics: masks/face shields, gloves, staggered school shifts, reduced class sizes, canceled assemblies and indoor sports, stations with hand sanitizer, glass partitions between desks and lunch tables, and thermal scanners to take students’ temperatures. Singapore is an interesting case study. After being ravaged by the SARS epidemic in 2003, Singapore’s school system has prepared for future pandemics. Some measures they took to improve their schools’ preparedness have been two days of remote learning drills and temperature-taking drills, as thermometers are now required school supplies for Singaporean students. Classrooms in Singapore are also equipped with infrared forehead thermometers. 

It seems as if many of the measures that are being used to reopen schools in Europe and Asia will be used if US schools reopen in the Fall. As for now, the bold reopening of schools around the world will be a good test to determine the feasibility of opening schools here in the US in the Fall. While Denmark has claimed the reopening of schools to be a success so far, some schools in China and South Korea have had to close after just a few students tested positive for coronavirus. In addition, many parents and students in Israel and Greece have resisted going back to school; parents have different opinions on when schools should reopen. The successes and failures of pioneering schools that reopen abroad will inform American schools on if/how schools reopen in the Fall. For now, we must turn our attention to schools across the globe.