Schools, universities and colleges in some provinces and regions of China are welcoming their students back as the numbers of new daily COVID-19 confirmed cases have dropped in the country over the past few weeks.

This is undoubtedly good news and a positive signal for the nation, which has been battling the pandemic with painstaking effort in the past months.

It is, however, posing a great challenge for the educational system, as tens of millions of students are returning to their classrooms after a prolonged winter holiday.

Preparations before the school gates open

With support from the local governments and all sectors of society, schools and educational institutions in different places have undertaken a great deal of work in preparation for reopening, including preserving medical equipment like protective gear.

A teacher introduces the knowledge of epidemic prevention and control at Haidong No. 2 High School in Haidong City, northwest China’s Qinghai Province, March 9, 2020. /Xinhua

Northwest China’s Qinghai Province became the first province to reopen its schools in China, with nearly 150 high schools and vocational schools opening on March 9, and middle schools on March 16.

The Provincial Department of Industry and Information Technology has allocated 840,000 masks, 36.03 tonnes of medicinal alcohol, 75 tonnes of disinfectant, 855 forehead thermometers to the province’s education system as of March 6.

According to the local education department, schools across the province have got more than one million masks, 2,892 forehead thermometers, 251.88 tonnes of disinfectant, 47.05 tonnes of medicinal alcohol and other epidemic prevention supplies in stock, which can meet their needs for more than one week.

Meanwhile, various protective measures have been taken by different schools and institutions to protect the health and safety of the students and staff and to prevent the coronavirus transmission.

A teacher watch students leave the teaching building at a middle school in Xining, Qinghai, China, March 17, 2020. /Xinhua

In some schools in Qinghai, students are required to have their temperature checked every day, maintain a distance of one meter from each other, and each is given a new face mask every second day.

“Every corner of the schools is disinfected regularly,” said Yang Fayu, deputy head of the provincial education department.

Yang added that more than 1,000 medical workers have been dispatched to schools to conduct public health tasks, such as teaching epidemic prevention knowledge and skills, disinfecting areas and checking body temperatures every day.

Special lessons on first school day

Over 1.5 million students in their final year of senior and junior high schools in Guizhou Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region returned to school last week, as the two have seen no new reported coronavirus cases for about a month.

Students line up to enter school at a safe distance at a middle school in Kazak Autonomous Prefecture of Ili, Xinjiang, China, March 23, 2020. /Xinhua

More than 2,400 high schools with over 990,000 students in Guizhou reopened on March 16, according to the provincial education department.

Customized school buses, wearing masks, temperature checks, specific routes to classrooms – a set of preparations before classes were improving enough for the students to learn how important it is to keep social distancing in public to protect themselves and others.

“It takes more time for me to get to my desk. But I feel safer and less anxious,” said Mao Yongli, a student at No.6 Senior High School of Guiyang, capital city of Guizhou.

A teacher explains epidemic prevention knowledge at a primary school in Hotan, Xinjiang, China, March 23, 2020. /Xinhua

In the schools that have resumed classes, the first lessons for students covered similar topics, including epidemic prevention, health care maintenance and how to respond to emergency drills.

Zhou Jin, head of the education bureau of Guiyang, said more detailed and tailored plans will be made to ensure safe offline schooling for more students.

In Xinjiang, over four million students went to classrooms in 5,004 elementary, high and vocational schools in an orderly manner this week.

A teacher checks temperature of students at a primary school in Urumqi, Xinjiang, China, March 23, 2020. /Xinhua

Free masks were given out to students and meals served individually. Each class is limited to 30 students, seating is staggered and temperatures are taken three times a day.

All the classrooms, canteens and dormitories are disinfected regularly, while closed-off campus management has been adopted to reduce imported infection risks, according to Tian Yun, head of the educational administration office of Urumqi No.1 Senior High School.

More schools to follow suit

As of Monday, over 10 provinces and regions across the country have announced dates and arrangements for starting the new semester, most of which put graduating middle and high school students at priority.

Among them, Qinghai, Guizhou and Xinjiang have already resumed classes for a majority of students, while the rest have scheduled to reopen schools in late March or early April, including southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province.

Students have an English class at Urumqi No.1 Senior High School in Urumqi, Xinjiang, China, March 19, 2020. /Xinhua

Students in the final year of junior and senior high schools have returned to schools in Yunnan this week, and all primary and high schools across the province will reopen on March 30.

In east China’s Jiangsu, junior and senior high schools will resume classes for graduating students next week, while others and pupils will begin their semester on April 7.

Other provinces where the risk of virus transmission is low will follow suit soon. In some major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, which are at greater risk from imported cases of infection, it is still not known yet when the schools will reopen, and students will continue e-learning at home.

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