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Coronavirus: opening of schools still fluid, Prodromou says (Update 2)

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The government will seek to ensure classroom instruction as far as possible, Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou said on Monday, though a lot would depend on the prevalence of the coronavirus, which can change from one week to the next.

Some two weeks before the scheduled opening of schools, Prodromou on Monday kicked off meetings with stakeholders to discuss various scenarios and health protocols.

“Our aim is to ensure physical attendance in the highest degree possible,” Prodromou said after meeting secondary school teacher unions Oelmek and Oltek. “We hope to fully achieve this with primary education and certainly we will pursue this with secondary education to a large extent.”

Prodromou said decisions could differ at each level depending on the state of affairs at the time.

The minister said no final decisions have been made pending the instructions and advice of the government’s team of experts.

Prodromou said health protocols will be applied the same way the were last season, which ended with just a handful of cases in schools.

That, however, was a time when Cyprus, following a lockdown, had succeeded in flattening the curve. It is currently trying to contain a recent outbreak that followed reopening of the economy, including airports.

“If only health protection rules were followed outside the way they were in schools,” Prodromou said. “The ministry has – and this is what we discussed with all education organisations without getting into the details yet – planned with numbers, in detail, all the possible situations and of course the schools’ normal operation with full attendance.”

He added that the ministry can implement remote teaching where physical attendance was impossible while some schools were ready to apply part-time attendance.

Oelmek chairman Costas Hadjisavvas said the school year must start with strict adherence to hygiene rules with masks and disinfectants and whatever else the protocols dictate.

Breaks should be at different times for classes whose pupils must be kept in separate areas of the yard and timetables and programmes should be readjusted if necessary, Oelmek said.

Paediatrician and infectious disease specialist Zoi Dorothea Pana said the European Centre for Disease Control said reopening schools was important for children primarily and social and other reasons.

“The most suitable framework must be found to create a secure environment within schools,” she said.

Pana said there has been a sense of urgency throughout the crisis and there are protocols for every workplace, including schools. They, however, must be reviewed in a dynamic manner, depending on the country’s epidemiological situation.

“A secure environment must be created where everyone is responsible, as is the case in every workplace,” she said.

Everyone involved, including parents, must strictly observe the measures to ensure continuous education and the best possible operation of the schools during the pandemic.

Akel on Monday backed up teaching unions and said it was high time that measures regarding the start of the school year were finalised.

“Since last March we have experienced the failure of the ministry of education to cope effectively with the difficult conditions created by the coronavirus epidemic. Hundreds of children remained excluded from the education system culminating in the well-known fiasco of excluding children with disabilities,” head of Akel’s education office Christos Christofides said.

“A few days before the start of the new year no one knows exactly what will happen, there is no specific plan and the protagonists who will be called to implement it, teachers, students and parents, are in the dark.

“There is basically no pedagogical plan for how our children will learn effectively under these difficult conditions.

“We are already very late. The island’s education does not need another great failure. We call on the ministry of education to move quickly, even in the little time left.”


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