Keys to a sustainable reopening of schools

15 September 2020

“Given the circumstances, keeping schools open appears to be an almost impossible quest and even more it affects everyone’s spirits”.

By Ana Moreno

For the last few days, almost 2 million students have been joining their classrooms. There have been many last-minute changes in the arrangements on how the opening of this atypical school year should be conducted. Last Wednesday, in front of the plenary session of the Catalan parliament, the Minister of Education Josep Bargalló acknowledged that the instructions for schools “will change every week because new things will happen every week”. Faced with complaints from some parliamentarians by the situation, Bargalló claimed “the worst thing you can do about the pandemic is doing nothing”.

Changes have been constant since the first regulation last June and this has generated fatigue and also undermined the confidence of many. Given the circumstances, keeping schools open appears to be an almost impossible quest and it affects everyone’s spirits even more. Just like the teachers and principals of schools, we ask ourselves: How is it possible to face such uncertainty and guarantee both the safety of the students and the opening of the school at the same time? Obviously, the answer is not simple, but it requires a rigorous analysis of the situation, clear objectives and a large dose of creativity. On the other hand, no centres should feel left on their own in shielding the school: they need the support of health and educational Services plus local Administrations, as the re-opening of schools has unquestionable benefits both for the present and future of students, as well as for the welfare of their families.

No centres should feel left on their own in shielding the school: they need the support of health and educational Services plus local Administrations, as the reopening of schools has unquestionable benefits both for the present and future of students, as well as for the welfare of their families

Therefore, the objective cannot be other than to give priority to school attendance as a guarantee of educational quality by protecting health in educational centres and providing the necessary means to manage the pandemic. In any case, it will be necessary to be able to anticipate and develop successful strategies in order to guarantee not only the reopening of schools but mainly keeping them running during the whole school year.

It will be necessary to be able to anticipate and develop successful strategies in order to guarantee not only the reopening of schools, but mainly keeping them running during the whole school year.

Shielding schools from the virus

Once the importance of opening the schools became clear, it was studied how to do so with the minimum risk. According to the experts, the three main goals are maintaining “stable groups”, creating “bubble spaces” and controlling “the chain of contagion”. Despite hygiene measures, the use of face-masks and safety distance are important, it is key to keep coexistence groups as tight and stable as possible all year round.

According to the experts, the three main goals are maintaining “stable groups”, creating “bubble spaces” and controlling “the chain of contagion”: it is key to keep coexistence groups as tight and stable as possible all year round.

However, what is a “stable group of coexistence” considered? Moreover, what function does it fulfil? A stable group is a unit of students who, all along with one or two teachers, share common spaces such as the classroom, courtyard, etc… throughout their school day. A teacher can only belong to a stable group. In these units, and as a general rule, there is no need to use protective measures such as a face-mask or safety distance; therefore, in case of a positive case, they all have to keep quarantine. Any relationship with external people to a stable group, whether students or teachers, should be limited as much as possible and carried out with the maximum safety measures: face-masks, safety distance (1.5 meters), hand washing and ventilation.

Any relationship with external people to a stable group, whether students or teachers, should be limited as much as possible and carried out with the maximum safety measures

A chain of contagion is formed by all those people who have been in contact with someone tested positive but not keeping protective measures such as a facemask or safety distance. This usually happens in family environment and in stable groups, so the chain goes as far as those relationships. As there’s little protection among group members, in the case of a positive result, there is high risk of contagion and so, a 14-day quarantine needs to be held, i.e. while the incubation period lasts. In case community transmission happened, the entire community would be quarantined as they lack previous protection measures guaranteed. In the case of a school, when there are two positive cases in different stable groups but belonging to the same area or building, even if the security measures were taken, it is considered a community transmission to a certain extent: it may be recommended to quarantine the entire space, with the consequent interruption of the attendance of all students. In the event that two or more positives occur in different groups and in different areas, the entire school could be quarantined.

While engaging to keep schools open, another important concept may arise: the bubble space, the one that is shared by several stable groups and some teachers. The members of the same bubble space, whether teachers or students, share corridors, courtyards, dining rooms, toilets, entrance and exit. If these groups are well-defined, in case of a positive in two of its stable groups, the quarantine just affects that specific bubble group avoiding the so feared community transmission.

The members of the same bubble space, whether teachers or students, share corridors, courtyards, dining rooms, toilets, entrance and exit. If these groups are well-defined, in case of a positive in two of its stable groups, the quarantine just affects that specific bubble group avoiding the so feared community transmission.

Stable groups and effective bubble spaces

The first thing that must be considered when organizing stable groups and bubble spaces is the degree of protection to be achieved. It must be taken into account that every contact with people outside the stable group, whether inside or outside the classroom, is a route of transmission and opens possible community transmissions.

Some measures to guarantee effectiveness of stable groups:

  • Taking care of ratio and ventilation of every space: use of corridors, gyms, dining rooms, auditoriums, libraries, porches, etc… even by taking down plasterboard walls, if necessary. Every stable group has its own adequate space by doing so.
  • Assigning a minimum number of teachers, ideally two, throughout the school year: a tutor and a specialist. This is relatively simple in lower classes, but it might be more complicated in secondary levels. However, some advantages can be taken out of it, such as greater autonomy of the students. The number of teachers per class could be achieved by thinking about possible half-yearly subjects or teachers who’d be leading more than one subject: by doing so the number of outsider teachers the group could be significantly reduced. Every teacher involved in a stable group should be part of its bubble space, too. If this wouldn’t be possible, the remaining classes should be offered online.
  • While deciding all these points, there must be a clear idea about how sustainability of the attendance is to be guaranteed.
  • Signalling, training and education. Classroom decoration should remind students the specific safety measures they should follow during the day, according to their age and circumstances.

Effective stable groups: 1) Ratio and space; 2) reducing the number of teachers involved in a group by introducing semester subjects and higher number of subjects each teacher; 3) all teachers in a stable group should be part of its bubble space. If this is not possible, the remaining classes should be given online.

Some measures to make the most out of bubble spaces

  • Taking care of key sub-spaces: entering and leaving the school should be exclusive in time and/or space. Corridors, dining room, patio, or toilets should be sufficient, ventilated, exclusive and distributed in time.
  • Teachers: Every teacher in the school would belong to and remain in a bubble space during the entire school day. Any other tasks are fulfilled online: meetings or classes.
  • Signalling: A bubble space must be signposted with the necessary routes keeping safety distances, reminder signs in toilets, dining rooms, patios, etc. should be implemented, too. Students wearing a group badge, such as a face-mask, cap or coloured vest could be very helpful.

Ensuring continuity in learning

In case of quarantine it is necessary to guarantee the continuity of learning process. This is why a model of mixed education, combining face-to-face lessons with the online formation, would be required.

Some ideas to guarantee continuity in case of quarantine:

  • Using some online training platform during the school year: it would be important familiar situation be taken into account in case of younger students; special support teachers might be required, too.
  • A class group should be divided if possible. In case there would be more than one class group in each level, there would be one of them following the online option at all times. This group could vary every week. In case of quarantine, students are added to the online group.

To guarantee the continuity in learning: A class group should be divided or, in case there would be more than one class group in each level, an online option should be working at all times. This group could vary weekly.

Further opportunities. One step ahead

Facing situations as new opportunities, helps people take advantage of any circumstance to improve. This is so with the pandemic. During this school year there are great opportunities to step forward in structural aspects of the educational transformation we are immersed in:

  1. Inclusive curriculum and competent learning: by selecting the essential content and ensuring that every student reaches his sufficient level, each of them can keep up towards excellence. Implementing a ULD approach (Universal Learning Design) removes barriers to learning.
  2. Formative evaluation: following up the learning process of each student, with a heterogeneous participation of all those involved in their education: teachers, students and family.
  3. Learning to learn: the use of thinking as a basic pedagogical tool: all students develop the skills of critical and creative thinking necessary to learn and continue learning throughout life.
  4. Personalization: developing strategies and tools that allow an effective monitoring of each student, so that they can develop their full potential.
  5. Technology: just as thinking is the basic tool in knowledge, technology is in the digital age. Everyone could ask oneself whether an investment in books or technology would be more rewarding to him. This idea may shock some people, but it also should be kept in mind that technology allows quick access to every knowledge accumulated along human history and it is important to know how to access and use it.

Opportunities to take a step forward in structural aspects of educational transformation: 1) Inclusive curriculum and competent learning, select essential content and ULD (Universal Learning Design) that eliminates barriers to learning; 2) Formative evaluation: make a personalized follow-up of the learning process of each student; 3) Learning to learn: to promote the use of thinking as a basic pedagogical tool, and critical and creative thinking skills to learn and continue learning throughout life; 4) Personalization: to develop strategies and tools that allow the effective monitoring of each student; 5) Technology: as the basic tool in the area of knowledge is thinking, in the digital age is technology.

Translated by

Related to: Article, Covid-19

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2020-10-05T10:33:34+00:00September 15th, 2020|Personalization|0 Comments
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