Around the world, governments have temporarily closed educational institutions in a coordinated effort to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to UNESCO estimates, these worldwide closures impact over 90% of the world’s student population. In the Netherlands alone, the school closures impact millions of learners and thousands of teachers. On 21 April, the government announced that primary schools and daycares will reopen on 11 May. What does this mean for the affected students and teachers?
The decision to reopen these schools was made on the advice of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT), the advisory body that advises the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) and the Ministerial Crisis Management Committee (MCCb) in the fight against the pandemic. The advice clarified that the public health risk of reopening schools, if safe precautionary measures are taken, is manageable. The Cabinet will also consult with the schools before 11 May to determine the safest measures to reopen schools. For instance, it might mean dividing classrooms to create smaller groups of students.
In keeping with the idea that children do not contribute much to the spread of the virus, the Cabinet has permitted sports activities for children up to the age of 12; children between 13 and 18 are permitted to exercise in small groups, provided that they keep a distance of 1.5 metres between each other.
The reopening of primary schools has led to intense discussion among teachers, some of whom are in favour of the decision to reopen, while others, especially those in the high-risk category, oppose it. Bertus Meijer (57), a teacher at Het Krijt primary school in Assen, is suffering from diabetes and therefore among those in the Covid-19 high-risk category. Conflicted about the Cabinet’s decision to reopen schools, Meijer on the one hand trusts the experts’ recommendation to reopen, and believes that reopening can be done in a careful way that does not put students, parents and teachers at risk. At the same time, he is unsure whether or not he can return to teaching in a classroom due to his health.
Daisy Mertens (32), a primary school teacher at De Vuurvogel in Helmond, expresses enthusiasm about returning to teaching in the classroom. She believes teaching at a distance hinders many aspects of the learning process, and that it can be difficult to decipher if a student understands a solution to a problem if she is not physically present to recognize the signs. Daisy is also excited due to the fact that children can once again utilize the school environment, which not only serves as a safe place for them, but also promotes equal opportunity. The latter is true because at least in school, all children receive the same level of education from a qualified teacher. At home, some parents are more qualified to help their children with homework than others, which leaves some of them dependent upon themselves with the teacher at a distance.
Krijn de Winter (37), a teacher in Boskoop, expresses concern over the OMT decision. While at first sceptical about the need to close primary schools, he is now opposed to the idea of reopening due to risks he believes the OMT is overlooking. While OMT experts revealed that parents infect their children more often than the other way around, De Winter fears that there are not enough data available to establish how often children infect their parents or grandparents. In contrast to Daisy Mertens, De Winter believes distant learning works well, and although he shares concerns about the economy taking a hit, he believes people must work from home as much as possible to tackle the spread of Covid-19.
Reopening schools doesn’t mean that social distancing rules are being relaxed entirely, and the Cabinet has warned that anyone expecting the return to normalcy will be disappointed. Other measures, including the closing of cafes and restaurants, have been extended until at least 19 May, as the OMT believes it’s still too early for more relaxations. The risk of more victims of the pandemic is still high, which is why the government continues to encourage everyone to work from home as much as possible, while continuing the closures of not just restaurants and cafes, but amusement parks, museums, and any kind of public gathering for the time being. Events which require a permit, including festivals and fairs, are even forbidden until 1 September. So, adults must wait a bit longer than children before any parts of normal life will be able to restart.
Written by Seringe S.T.Touray