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Does a two-year-old really need to go back to school?

Primary school children being made to social distance as schools reopened in May (Christos Theodorides)

Many parents and kindergarten owners want nurseries to reopen. Teachers need the money but are scared


Among all the divisive arguments surrounding the reopening of schools last week, none has become more toxic than whether the kindergartens should reopen.

The issue has divided parents, teachers and nursery school owners, as the fight rages on via emails and social media.

For the moment, the government has stood firm. They announced last Monday that all private and state nurseries will remain closed for the time being.

But the pressure to reopen is intense. Parents need to return to work. Teachers, who in the private sector are mostly poorly paid, desperately need the money as the government subsidy has been so low. Nursery school owners need their fees.

But many cash-strapped teachers are also terrified. If a 13-year-old high school student needs constant nagging to social distance and wash his hands, how can a two-year-old even begin to understand? Nursery teachers catch every bug that’s going at the best of times and some argue to reopen is to put them in unnecessary danger.

A central part of the debate is whether children so young even need to go back. A return to routine, the need to socialise, the importance of education certainly apply to older children, but to a two-year-old? Can’t they just go to a park and play with another toddler?

Kindergarten owners contacted by the Sunday Mail were reluctant to comment, perhaps because they do not want to admit it might not damage the children that much to stay away a little longer.

“It is enough socialising if the children can go to the park and play which they are now allowed, and do things like helping in the garden and in the kitchen,” one nursery school owner conceded, though only on condition of anonymity. “They need friends around but they can only come back under some sort of normality when they are allowed to touch and play like they used to. It is not possible to keep them from being close.”

Professor Timothy Papadopoulos, professor at the department of psychology at the University of Cyprus, said it is different when children suddenly don’t have their peers around rather than having the usual summer break for which the kids have been prepared.

“The loneliness may affect children, particularly those growing up without siblings,” he said, adding this may be very stressful at times.

But he adds that this does not mean he advocates opening up nurseries. For now children should go to parks and play in other outdoor areas, after which head back to their parents, a safe controlled environment.

“However organised kindergartens are you cannot have the same cleanliness and order. You cannot control what the children touch even if they are not hugged. They may touch any surface and then their eyes or their mouths.”

The constant need for handwashing is hard to instill in very young children

Maria, the mother of a four-year-old, agrees children under six will not easily follow rules of distancing but insists very young children need kindergartens.

“Until four the brain synopsis develop and the loss of education and the absence of educational personnel are a big issue. The alternative are the grandparents. This is like a quarantine and a further stop to socialising, the kids are with the grandparents and not with peers. They are not exposed to other children. This is a further obstacle to education,” she commented.

Marios, the director of a private kindergarten, suggested there could be a gradual opening, starting with the five-year-olds, who he says are not much different from the six-year-old pupils who since Thursday are back at primary schools in rooms with 12 children.

“You could open the preschool classes. Then the class of 25 could be divided into four groups and the space of the whole kindergarten could be used for this one group only.”

The question of economics is obviously central to the argument. While preschool owners complain about having expenses, parents say they need to go back to work.

Arguably the most frustrated group are the teachers, who are fully aware of the dangers, feel pushed to work by the parents and are also currently being only paid part of what is often an already meager salary.

“The kids hug, cough, sneeze, they vomit, they all get sick, it is impossible to keep them at a distance,” Andria, a teacher, told the Sunday Mail. “We cannot stay away from them, you have to change diapers, for example. You have to pick them up if they cry.

“We are worried but on the other side we understand the need to provide a service and we suffer economically. We are being paid 60 per cent of our salaries and it is very difficult. A lot of us struggle personally and have reasonable fears but we are not allowed to say we are frightened because then people think we are lazy.”

One group which champions the early opening are the Cyprus Association of Private Preschool Education (CAPPE).

In a letter to the education ministry sent earlier this month, head of the association Lavra Heracleous argued the institutions should fully reopen for the good of children, parents and wider society.

“We would like to convey to you the intense concern and problems that working parents face in relation to the care and pre-school education of their children, taking into account that most parents have already gradually begun to return to work,” the letter read.

The association is also concerned with the financial problems of these small businesses, many of which have no income but under a government scheme have to continue to pay 10 per cent of their employees’ salaries.

“The vast majority of stations and kindergartens which are in financial difficulties intend to operate normally during the summer to make an effort to survive,” CAPPE informed the ministry, adding that many of them risk closure.


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