Opening schools in the pandemic: a complicated crossword puzzle for the authorities. Op-Ed by Ala Tocarciuc

„Opening schools in a pandemic is a complicated crossword puzzle, given it is also an exercise in community collaboration. So, if we only want “grade ten” from the kids, then we should also make for children “grade ten” school conditions..."

For some time now, both the authorities and parents in the country have been struggling to solve a very complicated crossword puzzle: how to re-open schools in a pandemic?

The school education experience of the spring semester had multiple gaps. Among the most serious were the poor quality of studies, due to significant differences between teaching subjects in classrooms and teaching online, and extremely limited access to the education process, for various reasons.

Schools must now be opened in such a way, that all children can learn qualitatively, being protected from the danger of COFID-19 infection. It seems a crossword puzzle, which is complicated to solve, but also extremely necessary. Education is one of the few branches with a serious impact on future generations and on the development of the country, in all dimensions.

You've probably heard about comparing a complicated problem with an elephant? So, if we want to eat this elephant, then we have to slice the problem elephant into small pieces and, one by one, to consume them. I'm going to try to do that now.

The opening of schools is, in fact, a process of building a complex ecosystem, which includes the following components:

  1. Pedagogical;
  2. Psychological;
  3. Sanitary;
  4. Legal;
  5. Security;
  6. Logistics;


For each of these components there are the responsibilities of the school, on the one hand, and the responsibilities of the parents, on the other.

The pedagogical component is about the quality of the teaching of the subjects, including the study plans, and require fully the dual elaboration: one with teaching in the classroom, and one with online teaching. It is not known at what stage temporary switch will be required on the online teaching regime. Here we have to consider a significant workload for teachers, and I assume that the school authorities are thinking about how to empower teachers and motivate them for an extra effort.

On the psychological side appears a new particularity in this pandemic: children, and their parents are affected by the consequences of the pandemic from several perspectives of mental health, which will be seen especially in behavioral field. Early evaluation of possible sensitive areas and early interventions by psychologists with parents and students before the start of the school year, as well as during the school year, could help to diminish their impact on the quality of the study act.

The sanitary field is almost known now and is more about disinfecting study spaces, ensuring physical distance and respecting the rules of individual protection of students. Here, written procedures and workbooks, to record the execution of the processes are required. The clear conditions, in which cases it is passed from one study regime to another, supported by segregation of duties, who substitutes teachers in case of necessity, from which sources, need to be defined also. One of the solutions for localities with multiple schools, such as Chisinau, would be to form mobile teams of freelance teachers, to replace those placed in quarantine. These mobile teams could work 14 days in one school, 14 days in another school, and this will ensure the continuity of the educational process.

The legal component is not a new one, but it will need to be adapted. Responsibility for the continuity of the educational process and the safety of children is divided in this pandemic 50:50 between the school and the parents. The risk of being infected at school is practically equal to the risk of infection outside of school hours. And if at school this risk is on the shoulders of school administrations, then after school this risk belongs to students and parents. Individual responsibility increases and has a major community impact, and in order to mitigate risks on both dimensions it would be good to clearly describe parental duties and school duties during the pandemic period. A written agreement, signed by parents and the school principal, would greatly simplify understanding of the new rules and how to comply with them.

Security is, like the other components, a complex one and includes security in the school and security outside the school. Security in the school during the pandemic period is much like the previous one, newer it will restrict parents' access to the school's territory, as possible sources of infection. The safety of children on the way to and from school becomes very important. It would be good to have some special routes for students, with special markings and requests to the public to avoid these routes in the morning and in the hours, when the children return from school, in order to reduce the risk of infection. Delimiting school routes and instructing children to follow these routes will help students avoid public transport as a source of increased risk of COVID-19 infection.

Logistics is something newer, and includes lesson schedules, management of inbound and outbound flows, breaks management, applied entry filters. In order to have efficient logistics, a flexible timetable is required for certain groups of classes, with separation of floors and separation of inputs and exits, as well as trained personnel for managing all flows. Simple, clear processes, and daily execution record in workbooks will help ensure the safe continuity of the educational process.

All these components are interconnected in an complex ecosystem and are very much interdependent. However, if we manage to secure them and execute them with excellence, then our children won't even feel it's a pandemic now.

In any time of crisis, a great deal of flexibility and permanent adaptation to new conditions is required. Children need school and they need our support to learn continuously.

Opening schools in a pandemic is a complicated crossword puzzle, given it is also an exercise in community collaboration. So, if we only want “grade ten” from the kids, then we should also make for children “grade ten” school conditions.

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