Students of five more grades returned to school under tight measures on Monday as Turkey strives to keep schools open in a bid to improve education amid the coronavirus outbreak.
A few weeks after kindergartners and first-graders started in-person classes, second, third, fourth, eighth and 12th graders were back to school. It is part of a government scheme that is based on a trial and error basis on coronavirus trends.
In parallel with the improvement in the situation, authorities have been gradually rolling out new in-person education programs. Like other grades which started earlier, new grades will attend classes only two days a week while they will attend live online classes for the rest of the week.
The two days a week scheme allows for reducing the number of students per classroom. Every classroom will have half of its original capacity only, with a group of students going to school on Monday and Tuesday and others attending on Thursday and Friday. Every student is seated alone at their desks.
Students are also mandated to wear masks at all times. On Monday, some schools distributed free masks to students who showed up without one. Parents who accompany their children to school were banned from entering the courtyard as part of measures. Students and teachers are required to use hand sanitizers before entering the school premises and classrooms. Every class will last for 30 minutes with 10-minute breaks in between.
In the meantime, school hours for kindergartners increased starting Monday. Now, they will attend school for five days as they used to do before the pandemic. Attendance for all grades is not mandatory but students are required to attend online live classes if they skip school.
"We are a bit scared because of the virus but my son would not have a proper education if the school was not opened," Melek Duruşman, mother of a student who attends a primary school in Istanbul, told Demirören News Agency (DHA).
"I was hesitant at first. He was having live classes anyway. But he is so happy to be back at school. He woke up very early and was very excited and happy though there was a little anxiety. I put everything in his schoolbag, from masks to cologne and sanitizers," she said.
Minister of National Education Ziya Selçuk was in Çankırı, a province north of the capital Ankara, to inaugurate the in-person classes. Selçuk said all measures were in place for a safe, quality education amid the pandemic and remote education was still the main element of education during this period.
He said the distribution of 500,000 tablet computers for students, who cannot afford one, will start later this week to improve access to live online classes. Several charities also launched campaigns for the donation of tablet computers and other materials to help more students enroll in live classes.
The minister noted that they set up nearly 13,000 points for students without online access across Turkey, referring to places equipped with computers for students exclusively for live classes.
"We will continue education under the guidance of the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board and plan our roadmap based on measures. I see students fully comply with measures," he added.
Professor Serap Şimşek Yavuz, a member of the Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, says schools were monitored against the risk of infection. "If a case emerges at a classroom where everyone properly wears a mask and adhere to social distancing, it will be middle or low risk. If more than one case is reported at the classroom, in-person education in that school can be postponed," she told DHA.
Turkey confirmed 1,502 new COVID-19 patients and 1,212 recoveries over the past 24 hours, officials said Sunday. The country's overall case count now stands at 335,533, including 294,357 recoveries, according to the Health Ministry. The virus-linked death toll in Turkey reached 8,837 with 59 new fatalities.