The Minister of National Education insisted that Turkey will not shut down schools for in-person education in the face of the increasing number of coronavirus cases.
Mahmut Özer said in a televised interview that they would carry on with the current measures in case of infections at a school; that is, closure of the classrooms with COVID-19 cases instead of closure of the entire school.
Education is viewed as one of the primary fields that cannot tolerate more disruptions, according to experts, pointing out that millions of children are already lagging behind due to the closure of schools for months last year.
The government decided to switch to in-person education in September for the start of the new school year. Prior to that, schools had adapted a remote education model, which was later combined with limited in-person classes. When coronavirus cases climbed in autumn 2020, the government ended in-person education.
Encouraged by a decline in cases early last summer, when other pandemic-related restrictions were also lifted, the ministry resumed in-person education. Unfortunately, it coincided with a resurgence in the daily cases. Daily cases have been around 29,000 over the past few weeks, with fatalities well above 200 daily.
Özer told CNN Türk on Thursday night that, so far, they had temporarily shut down 5,900 classrooms across Turkey where coronavirus cases were detected. He said schools were still “the safest places” in the pandemic. He downplayed the number of closed classrooms and said they constituted less than 1% of the total number of classrooms.
The minister highlighted that all procedures and measures were in place at schools and they organized measures under the guidance of the Health Ministry.
“Certainly, there may be problems but we have a tracking system in place that allows us to monitor the vaccinated staff at schools, staff who are required to undergo polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. Whenever a case is reported, the classroom where it is detected is closed down for 14 days,” he said, referring to the period of quarantine for the infected and those who came in contact with them.
He said some schools may be completely closed if clusters of cases are reported, but that does not mean that all schools in Turkey would be closed to in-person education. The minister noted that the number of teachers who were vaccinated also increased, citing that 83% of teachers had received two doses of vaccines in the country's vaccination program, adding that students eligible for vaccination were also showing interest in getting inocculated, even though it is not mandatory.
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