At 9 a.m. on Monday, loudspeakers at schools across Turkey blared with the national anthem and melodies marking the start of classes. At some schools, teachers rang old-school bells. Some students longingly watched their schools from afar. Thus, Turkey officially opened a new school year like no other.
Instead of classrooms, millions of students were at home, in front of TVs and computers watching distance education classes. They will be physically back at school on Sept. 21, amid strict measures against the coronavirus outbreak.
The remote learning process is scheduled to continue until Sept. 18 via public broadcaster TRT's Education Information Network (EBA) channels and live courses. In-person classes will start “gradually” a few days later, according to authorities, and a “diluted” model will be applied where school hours are rearranged to reduce the number of students in classrooms at any given time. Education will alternate between live online courses and in-person classes. EBA, originally conceived as a system for supplementary education materials, was transformed into a vital portal to continue the school year last spring when Turkey was forced to shut down schools in the face of virus cases. Through EBA and videoconferencing apps, teachers connected with their students for a while before the school year ended earlier this summer. Private schools are allowed to reopen earlier this month with remote education classes and courses for some grades aiming to recoup classes they missed due to the pandemic.
EBA Support Points were also set up in several provinces to help students without access to the internet. Students can attend live classes in those centers furnished with computers.
Remote education classes will focus on last school year’s curriculum to help students to get familiar with the classes they missed and prepare them for in-person classes.
National Education Minister Ziya Selçuk was at a primary school in the capital Ankara to mark the beginning of the school year and rang a bell there. “I am inside a classroom at the beginning of a new school year without students for the first time. This is very sad. I know students want to return to the school, but we can’t do it as long as there is a risk,” he told reporters. Later speaking at an event in Ankara, Selçuk said Turkey had a platform to provide live classes for about 1 million students. He said that with EBA, they also had the opportunity to see whether Turkey can implement a hybrid education model of in-person and online classes.
Turkey already issued a set of guidelines for measures against the virus at schools, and schools inspected for compliance with measures are certified by the government and approved to resume in-person classes. Guidelines were also prepared to educate parents and children about how to better protect themselves, as well as offer up-to-date information regarding the ministry’s announcements.
When in-person classes start, students will have their temperatures checked as they enter campuses, and they will only be allowed in one by one to avoid creating crowds. Every person on campus will be required to wear a face mask, and schools will provide students with one if they don’t have any. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers will also have to wear a face shield. Masks will also be required on school buses. Halls will have disinfectant dispensers mounted on walls. Visitors won’t be allowed inside except for in urgent situations. Staff will hold meetings via teleconference to avoid gathering in meeting rooms. Classrooms will have students’ desks spaced 1 meter (3.28 feet) apart, while the general occupancy of the school will be limited at one person per 4 square meters (43 square feet). Cafeterias will have tables spread out, and students will go there at different times. They will be required to disinfect their hands before and after entering. Food and beverages will be served with disposable plates and cups. Students with relatives and family members suffering from chronic illnesses will not be required to attend school, Selçuk announced over the weekend.
1,027 patients recover
Turkey recorded 42 COVID-19 related deaths and 1,482 new cases in the past 24 hours, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Sunday.
In a message posted on his Twitter account, Koca noted that the number of patients in intensive care has been increasing, which has also been having a negative impact on the number of lives lost.
Some 91,302 tests have been carried out and 1,027 people have recovered in the past 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry data. "We can only succeed if we carry out the struggle in unison. The power lies in precaution," Koca said.
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