Back to School – The Hong Kong Way

It’s almost 3 months to the day that India ground to a halt. Schools were shut and lessons were either moved online, or school holidays declared early. Now, as we take tentative steps to opening up and resuming ‘normal’ life again, the foremost question on every parent’s mind is about schools. Will schools even reopen this academic year? If so, how are we going to send our children back to their classrooms like before? Maybe the answers lie to our East.
Schools in Hong Kong, that had been shut since January, have recently reopened.
Aarti Mehrotra Mataney writes about her 6-year-old’s first day back to school in the ‘New Normal’

Hear that….
It’s the sound of silence.
How, you ask, is that possible? My 6 year old resumed school today after 5 months.

The Covid-19 crisis got Hong Kong to close down schools as early as January. We were among the first places to be hit, back when most in India hadn’t even heard of the word Coronavirus.
While the rest of the world was still planning the end of the school year and summer vacations, Hong Kong was putting into place different rules of social distancing. Wherever you looked, you saw the ubiquitous face mask. Mask usage has long been part of the social culture and fabric of everyday life in HK. This stems from its experience with the deadly SARS virus in 2003. Frequent sanitization of every high contact surface is the norm (think escalator handrails, elevator buttons, door handles).
These measures took on a renewed rigour since Covid-19 struck. Most offices were asked to work from home, large gatherings were banned. Life, as we knew it, was at a standstill.

May 2020 is when the government finally started releasing the measures in a phased manner.

After months spent in a lockdown of sorts, it was time to gradually reopen.

So how does that play out for schools? Was I ready for my 6-year-old to get into his school bus and go back to 8 hours of regular school?

The Education Department set very stringent guidelines for schools to follow. Each school had to submit its reopening plans with detailed protocols in place. We are all fully aware this is not a risk free endeavour but one we have to embrace as a new normal and try to minimise risk where possible.

The schools have stepped up to the challenge and have enabled the school halls to be filled with chatter and laughter once again. My son’s classroom looks very different now – each student has an individual seat and with dividers placed between each seat. The school year ends in 3 weeks and this period of time serves as an effective experiment for the new academic year. I think these protocols are here to stay and may become routine. This may give you a perspective of what school may look like once schools reopen in different countries:

Protocol:

  • Masks to be worn at all times through out the school day with the exception of water/snack/lunch time.
  • Temperature checks before getting on the bus, at the entrance of the school and before entering one’s classroom. Sanitizing and washing hands multiple times through out the day.
  • Children will practice handling used masks and storing them appropriately
  • Children are to be seated one metre apart in the classroom.
  • Snack/Lunch can be eaten only in designated areas with keeping a minimum distance of 1.5 metres and all the children will face in the same direction. A fresh mask will be worn after consuming the food.
  • 50% students will be at school on a given day. This was instituted by my son’s school to ensure the distancing measures. As a result the children at my son’s school will go into school on alternate days. Other schools have chosen to run school for half days instead.
  • Distance learning will continue during the out of school days.
  • The sanitizing, wiping and disinfecting will take a large part of the day, I am sure.

Yes, the rules and protocols are cumbersome. Yes, I am worried about my 6 year old wearing a mask for 8 hours of his day. Yes, I am concerned about the usage of alcohol based sanitizers. Yes, the risk of infections rising again is not lost on me. Yet I am embracing the new normal and preparing for the new school year in the same beat.
As for my son – He broke into a jig this morning about being able to see his teachers and friends in person. He got ready for his day in record time and sprinted out the door towards the bus stop.

Sprint we may towards a new normal. For now I will soak in some quiet time before my little man comes back home after his “first” day of school in the new Covid-19 world.

Aarti is a connoisseur of bad jokes and all things caramel. She currently lives in Hong Kong and can be seen behind a mask, wielding a hand sanitizer.

 

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