Looking to balance remote education with a return to school, Turkey decided to go ahead with plans to allow more students to attend in-person classes. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the majority of elementary school students would start in-person classes on Monday. Minister of National Education Ziya Selçuk shared more details about reopening amid a coronavirus outbreak that dealt a blow to in-person education.
Selçuk announced at a news conference Tuesday in the capital Ankara that second, third, fourth, eighth and 12th grades, as well as special education students, will be able to attend classes on Oct. 12. The minister also said thousands of tablet computers will be distributed to students who need them for remote classes.
Schools were closed on March 16, days after the country confirmed its first coronavirus case. The 2019-2020 school year was officially declared over in June. It was initially announced that schools would reopen on Aug. 31. However, a resurgence in infections postponed the reopening to Sept. 21 on a reduced scale. Only kindergarten and first-grade students went back to school under restricted terms. On Monday, vocational high schools started admitting students. Students of other grades rely on live classes and public broadcaster programming offering TV classes.
Selçuk said students will attend in-person classes two days a week and classrooms will have a reduced number of students as a precaution against the pandemic, while school hours will also be reduced. On other days, students will attend live online classes.
The government has been working on different scenarios for reopening for months and acts upon the advice of the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board. “We pursue a gradual reopening scheme based on the board’s criteria and scientific data and by prioritizing the needs of our children,” Selçuk said.
Schools currently operate with strict measures for hygiene. Staff and students are required to wear masks and social distancing is enforced, while parents are not allowed to enter the school premises. Attendance is not mandatory, but those not attending in-person classes are required to attend online classes. An education network set up by the ministry oversees the progress of students. The minister said good management of the situation helped them to move ahead with the reopening.
Selçuk said every school had “COVID-19 crews” monitoring the enforcement of rules, and teachers were educated on how to handle the restrictions. “Parents concerned about the well-being of their children will feel relaxed when they have seen how well the process is monitored. We have seen attendance rates increasing in a short time for first grades after the first week,” he said.
Village schools will be open for all grades for in-person classes, but the local pandemic boards can decide whether to shut them down based on the number of infections in the area.
For remote education, Turkey strives to ensure access for millions of students. For students without an internet connection, “support centers” are being set up across the country. Resembling internet cafes, these places allow students to attend live classes. Several charities also launched campaigns for the donation of tablet computers and other materials to help more students enroll in live classes. Selçuk said the government would distribute 500,000 tablet computers to students who cannot afford them in the coming days.
1,320 new recoveries
Turkey reported 1,603 more coronavirus patients and 1,320 recoveries over the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said Monday. The overall patient count now stands at 326,046, with recoveries totaling 286,370, according to the ministry data. More than 115,600 additional COVID-19 tests were conducted in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to over 10.93 million. The death toll from the virus reached 8,498, with 57 more fatalities.
The figures also showed that the number of patients in critical condition stands at 1,412, while 6.2% of patients have developed pneumonia this week.
"We have to reduce the number of our active cases," Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter, adding that the unity of citizens in following health care measures would strongly help all to fight the disease.
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