School education has seen continuous disruptions worldwide since the pandemic began early last year. In the last 14 months or so, nations were forced to suspend or shut schools for extended periods and introduce online learning, disrupting education at a scale not seen since the World War II.
Today, as the world continues to wage a war against Coronavirus, no one can predict when normality will return and children resume face to face learning in classrooms.
In the UAE, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have allowed in-class learning by introducing safety measures for students, parents and school staff.
In Dubai, for example, the Dubai Health Authority has published a guidebook for parents, advising them to closely monitor children for coronavirus symptoms and report to schools and health authorities if their wards test positive.
Homes are the first line of defence for children and their parents are more likely to spot symptoms of sickness. That is why, the guidelines say, parents must inform schools if they notice symptoms, including high fever, cough, body ache among their children and get a PCR test done.
Similarly, Abu Dhabi is conducting sweeping inspections of schools to ensure elaborate safety protocols are followed in the emirate’s 221 schools and 119 nurseries that are operational. Educational institutions must comply with a 62-point criteria covering a wide range of precautionary steps.
This includes regular testing of school staff and students aged 12 and above and parents who visit schools must produce a negative PCR test. Also, every school must appoint a compliance officer to enforce safety rules.
While these protocols may appear to be extraordinary, cumbersome and are expensive, we must understand that there is no option but to follow them. Risk of exposure to children will reduce only when a sizeable section of the population is vaccinated. Until then, safety protocols must be followed in letter and spirit by all stakeholders.
Yesterday, Gulf News reported that teenagers who are 14 years old or younger are volunteering for vaccines in the United States where trials have begun on minors. So far, vaccines are available only for adults and elderly.
While evidence shows that minors who contract the virus are either asymptomatic or have less severe disease, positive youngsters continue to spread infection.
Health experts have advocated universal vaccination covering all age groups but teens are likely to be the last to get the shots given the challenges.