Back to school — a student’s perspective on reopening guidelines
Written by Tiago Grilo, Mirai Intern
Covid-19 has impacted students like me around the world for months, and the future is still uncertain. We have been completely thrown off the path we have been told to follow since our early years. Finish primary school, finish secondary school, go to university, and get a job. Life is simply not what it was before and for the past few months, we’ve had to adapt to a whole new method of teaching and assessments.
While the COVID-19 crisis is still unfolding, schools and Ministries of Education have had to re-think how school will be delivered next year. For those of us in the UAE, the KHDA (The Knowledge and Human Development Authority) has announced that schools can reopen, provided that they follow nine guidelines have to ensure a safer return to school for all stakeholders. These are:
1. Taking the temperature of everyone who enters the school building on a daily basis.
2. Maintaining physical distance guidelines as recommended by the relevant health authorities and reducing the headcount capacity in classrooms.
3. Sterilizing the school building, classrooms, laboratories, and other facilities regularly, according to the recommendations of the National Authority for Emergency, Crisis and Disaster Management.
4. Organizing and managing the students’ working day including mealtimes to avoid high concentrations of students in one place.
5. Limiting gatherings and suspending group activities such as school trips, celebrations, sports events, and student camps.
6. Reducing bus capacity to 30%; maintaining social distancing on buses; taking all passengers’ temperatures upon boarding.
7. Ensuring that support & maintenance service staff do not enter the school when students and staff are present.
8. Appointing a trained health and safety official to ensure that people and processes in the school comply with health and safety protocols.
As a student, I’m happy to know that I can be back inside of school. This set of guidelines allows schools to once again deliver education while keeping in mind the safety of students.
But that doesn’t mean it will be easy to adapt.
Some guidelines won’t impact us much. As we have been immersed in the pandemic for 3 months now, rules such as temperature checks are part of our routine now. In addition, there are guidelines which don’t directly impact us as students but ensure our safety, such as the appointed health official, sterilization of schools. These are truly crucial to a safe school environment that parents feel comfortable sending their children to.
However, not all guidelines will be easy to follow as group work has been the norm in our school. Working with a partner right by you simply won’t happen anymore as we will need to keep a distance of two meters. This is what hits me the hardest. I am a very social and interactive individual who likes to get involved and work as a team around one big table. To be honest, at a distance will affect the relationships I have with my friends, classmates, and teachers. Learning can be personalized through technology, but it is far less personal. This sits alongside my other concern that learning will be more solitary. Students really have no other choice other than work at a distance whereas, previously, they would have someone to talk to right by them.
Some of you may be saying, “This could be good for teachers as they can have more control over classes”. I see your point, but at our school, we’re encouraged to talk and to work together. In fact, in certain subjects such as in Mathematics, I appreciate having a friend beside me so we can bounce off ideas from each other and work together to solve common problems.
In addition, I am going into my last year of school. This is already stressful and, given the COVID-19 crisis and social distancing, it’s not going to be any easier. I’ll use an example. When revising for my first big exams (my GCSE’s) I wasn’t revising the actual content, but researching on the best way of revising that content and seeing what works for me. I had the time and support to do this so I could adapt to an effective revision method in time for my exams. To be able to learn effectively for our exams we need to take the time to see what works with our new restrictions and what doesn’t, because if we don’t take the time to do this then many people even myself will find it hard to focus on their studies.
I’m not asking for the guidelines to change. They ensure our safety. I am asking that schools Dubai really take our mental health and wellbeing into consideration as the ways of learning could cause a lot of anxiety for individual students. Some students, on the other hand, may find that they flourish as independent workers. We will only really know the impact these guidelines will have once we go back to school.