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Despite coronavirus fears, Poland goes all in on reopening schools

WARSAW — Poland was relatively lucky throug..

WARSAW — Poland was relatively lucky throughout the pandemic. Now its embarking on an experiment that has parents and teachers holding their breath: restarting live instruction for all of the countrys 4.5 million schoolchildren.

Under the new format for the school year, Polands education ministry lets schools switch to a hybrid live-virtual system or go fully online only when a coronavirus infection has been confirmed. To date, this has happened in just a tiny fraction of schools, according to the ministry.

The school year began on September 1, and after a week almost all of the nations kindergartens and schools were open, the ministry reported. Only 35 schools had switched to hybrid teaching, and 45 had moved online.

As for guidance within schools, children are supposed to disinfect hands frequently and keep their distance from each other. There is no requirement to wear masks, although directors have the freedom to impose such a measure for pupils moving inside the building.

“Weve developed the rules for the functioning of schools during the epidemic,” Education Minister Dariusz Piontkowski said before the school year started. “We did it much earlier than most countries in Europe. The government helped schools purchase disinfectants, masks and contactless thermometers.”

Polands experience with managing virtual education during the pandemic ran into many of the same pitfalls seen around the globe.

Piontkowski insisted that Polands approach is similar to that of other European countries, but there are differences. For example, Germany is opening schools on staggered schedules, with kids grouped into small cohorts, an idea that has also taken hold in countries including Norway and Denmark. In Belgium, all students 12 and older must wear masks, and France is also imposing a mask rule on children above primary grades.

As for Piontkowskis optimism, the Association of Polish Teachers (ZNP), the nations largest teachers union, says its premature.

“Were afraid the number of schools asking to switch to hybrid or online teaching could well increase in the coming weeks,” warned Krzysztof Baszczyński, deputy head of the ZNP.

“There should be a prevention mechanism in which principals can switch to hybrid or fully online teaching mode in especially overcrowded schools,” he said. “Instead, they can only do that if theres a confirmed coronavirus case.”

Unions and other critics also say the system is too slow to react. Local press in Gdańsk reported last week of a primary school where coronavirus was diagnosed in a pupil and a teacher. But another teacher, who had confirmed she was in touch with her infected colleague, continued working at another school, according to the Gdańsk edition of the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper.

For now, however, the country remains largely unscathed from the virus despite a jump in numbers in August. There were only 400 confirmed cases on Tuesday, well below the peak of 903 reported on August 22.

Mission impossible?

Polands experience with managing virtual education during the pandemic ran into many of the same pitfalls seen around the globe.

When the coronavirus struck in March, the government moved quickly and closed schools later that month. The enforced break lasted until the end of the school year in June.

Classes were often run online in makeshift fashion on platforms like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. But teachers frequently had to resort to more basic tools, such as sending homework by email.

And as with families everywhere, juggling work from home and parenting proved a challenge. A May poll by jobs portal found 79 percent of parents saying they struggled to balance the two.

Polands Piontkowski insisted that Polands approach is similar to that of other European countries | Radek Pietruszka/EPA

Despite the combined pressures of telework and parenting, the governments call for a complete school reopening has only limited support. A




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