Schools in China are back in business! With the Covid19 curve flattening in China almost all schoolsincluding international schools have reopened. What does it look like on the ground? Let us take a brief tour of how staff and students are trying to bounce back on their feet after the pandemic.
Stage one: reopening(suddenly)
The Chinese education board is advising and monitoring the reopening process of schools in their respective districts and provinces. While they have put together a process of inspecting the facilities and preparing for the first day back to school, they have also somehow managed to decide at the very last moment when each school should reopen. So stage one is getting over the shock that you have to be in school tomorrow, on time and on-site with 10-12 nours of notice! Stage one hurdle is the most challenging one; to get over 15 weeks of inactivity and inertia can be very challenging especially when you need to get up on the morning alarm and not just snooze it.
Stage two:extensive monitoring
Every morning when I come into the school I can see a few community members (not our staff) quietly observing the entire procedure and even taking notes. We have been advised that there might be surprise inspections to ensure we are following all safety measure. This makes everyone more safety compliant as there are legal implications for non-compliance. Also the requirement is-‘Early Detection, Early Isolation, Early Reporting and Early Treatment’. The funny thing is everyone’s monitoring everyone!
Stage three: action series
A lot of action is required, the first action, take the nucleic acid test, second, test negative, the next set of action steps are very simple just a bit tedious: check temperature before entering the school bus; leave a seat in between while travelling in the bus; arrive at school and go through a temperature scanner; while walking and queueing for checks follow the one-meter markers on the path in order to maintain distance; sanitise hands before entering the building and after entering the classroom; do not use air conditioners; make sure rooms are well ventilated and sanitise everything in your workspace/office.
Stage four: inside the classroom
In the classroom, make sure no two chairs face each other, all students are separated from each other at least by a meter from all sides, accommodating a class of ten students seemed like a gigantic task. Students should not share stationery or any other types of equipment, books etc. Each room has an ultra-violet(UV) light installed in them in order to kill germs when rooms are not in use. The UV lights should not be switched on accidentally by anyone, there are enough notices to warn students but of course, the warnings sometimes excite the students to do just the thing they are asked not to do!
Stage five: outside the classroom
Lunch area looks like a matrix of crisscrossing lines, students are not allowed to sit with each other or in front of each other as a result everyone is looking towards the wall and sitting behind each other in long queues. Students and staff need their temperatures checked before entering the cafeteria. Entry and exit gates are far away so if you have to go for second helping you need to exit the cafeteria and enter again, get in the queue and stand on placeholders to maintain one-meter distance. The next challenge is PE, playing sports with one-meter distance! The head of athletics has come up with creative ideas to engage students in sports in spite of so many restrictions, it is fun to watch students adapt and enjoy the new changes. Use of lockers have been restricted as it is a popular hangout for students, they are asked to keep their bags in the homeroom or common room and go back and forth in order to get their necessities; wash hands every time they go outside; gym and library spaces are no longer accessible due to fear of transmission through contaminated objects.
Stage six: information overload
The closest I have come to an emergency situation is the PPP or pandemic prevention precautions. Every stakeholder of the school has to read pages and pages of information regarding pandemic prevention. After reading all information when you arrive on campus there is more information awaiting you. Once you have digested all information you need to remember all of it. Register on a health monitoring app and update it every day, always wear a mask (of course), maintain one-meter distance from everyone, do not speak in public transportation, wash hand and maintain hygiene. A whole list of dos and don’ts and again another list of what-ifs
Stage seven: onsite and online
With many students and teachers outside China even though we are back on-site, online teaching and learning continues, so in some classes we have the virtual teacher connecting remotely and in others we have students joining in from different parts of the world. As a teacher, I am sometimes talking and communicating with a device in the middle of a lesson also my colleagues are streaming live to join us from remote locations. It is a new experience and a great one for blended learning. Even assessments are happening parallel both onsite and online. Though I must warn teachers that students at the back of a device sometimes come up with requests like can I go to the toilet? In the middle of an exam! Teachers need to decide the purpose of an exam or even the purpose of having an online exam. Time to ponder: do we really need exams?
Stage eight: meetings
A regular school day or week is punctuated by meetings, department meetings, student council meetings, pedagogical meetings, club meetings, leadership meetings and the list goes on…
Now with the current requirement of social distancing, not facing each other in a closed space, has led to many comic situations in meetings. Meetings with colleagues sitting next door are via online platforms. Outdoor meetings, meetings with laptops connecting teachers outside China and meetings with people sitting behind you or far from you, it is the funniest experience ever, talking to peers and students a meter away with masks on. In case I forgot to mention, talking with masks on is another level of challenge as you cannot see the lip movement, hence to understand simplest verbal communication in a diverse community with people speaking in different accents is a major challenge!
Stage nine: what happens if…
What happens if a student shows signs of being unwell in a classroom? The teacher will take the entire class in an outside open space; contact the nurse without making physical contact; allow the nurse to suit up into a full biohazard prevention suit or the hazmat suit; the nurse will then check the students if symptoms are similar to Covid19 the nurse will trigger the emergency procedure which has multiple steps; in short, the student/s with symptoms will be taken to the hospital and the rest in contact with the student/s will be isolated inside the gym for further checks. The gym has been set up as isolation space for at least a whole class of 10-15 people. But parent, guardians or family members will not have any contact with anyone in this group. Hence the biggest worry right now is if a student/s shows symptoms- a little cough or sneeze sets out panic reactions and forces the nurse to gear up in the hazmat!
Stage ten: bouncing back
Bouncing back hasn’t been easy! Nevertheless, it has been entertaining and educating. Entertaining because the new normal makes us laugh; educating because it has taught everyone the need for dealing with it together. Its like being on a trampoline, one moment you fall and the next moment you are standing up again. It still feels bouncy and unsettling to get back to school but it feels good to bounce back!